The North Dakota man accused of fatally running down a teen with his car and then blaming his actions on a supposed political dispute will no longer face a murder charge, thanks to a unilateral decision from the local district attorney.
In the early morning hours of September 18, 2022, Shannon Brandt called police to report that he had struck and killed 18-year-old Cayler Ellingson after a street dance in McHenry, a tiny town about two hours northwest of Fargo. Brandt initially claimed that the teen was a member of "a Republican extremist group" who had threatened to sic his friends on him.
"I hit him and I didn’t mean to, and he’s subdued," Brandt told the dispatcher, according to court documents. "I was scared to death, but he’s subdued, he can’t do anything to me now."
Brandt, who later admitted that he had been drinking and whose blood alcohol level that night allegedly exceeded the legal limit, also made another strange comment to the dispatcher. "I almost, oh God, I almost just run away," he said, according to court documents, "but I thought jeez obviously if it was a total accident I wouldn’t be scared but I know it was more than that."
Because of those startling admissions, the fact that he reportedly left the scene of a deadly accident, and a subsequent investigation that seemed to undermine Brandt's version of events, Foster County State’s Attorney Kara Brinster upgraded the charges against Brandt from criminal vehicular homicide to murder with a dangerous weapon.
North Dakota driver admitted to intentionally killing teen at a street dance after political disputewww.youtube.com
However, now, eight months after Ellingson's unfortunate death, Brinster has once again adjusted the charges against Brandt, reducing the murder charge to manslaughter. Brandt’s attorney, Mark Friese, claimed that the move is not the result of any plea agreement and reiterated that the murder charge against his client was always inappropriate.
"There is no evidence to support the misplaced allegation of intentional homicide," Friese said. "The state and defense forensic experts have provided comprehensive reports confirming this tragedy was an accident. Misplaced media hype and community conjecture is no substitute for evidence."
Though Friese asserted that "there is no evidence ... of intentional homicide" in this case, the autopsy report might tell a different story. According to the medical examiner, Ellingson's injuries were "caused by being run over," not by "being struck by Shannon Brandt's vehicle." Forensic evidence also suggested that there was little or no damage to the vehicle itself.
Ellingson also reportedly called his mother that night, panicking that Brandt was chasing him. At around 2:40 a.m., he told Sheri Ellingson, who may have been acquainted with Brandt, "something to the effect of they are after me or he is after me" before the phone went dead. Sheri Ellingson raced to the scene, but her son was already deceased by the time she arrived.
There was also no indication that Ellingson was ever a "Republican extremist" or that he and Brandt had engaged in a political dispute. "There has been no corroboration that this was even politically motivated at all," North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Bryan Niewind said just days after the incident occurred.
Brandt's trial is scheduled to begin on May 30. If convicted of manslaughter, Brandt, now 42, could spend up to 10 years behind bars. A murder conviction in North Dakota could have resulted in a life sentence.
Like Blaze News? Bypass the censors, sign up for our newsletters, and get stories like this direct to your inbox. Sign up here!