ND Man Who Ran Over Teen He Called a 'Republican Extremist' Pleads Guilty to Downgraded Charges

Brittany M. Hughes | May 19, 2023
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A North Dakota man who killed a teenager with his car last fall pleaded guilty in court Thursday to manslaughter, after the charges were downgraded from murder earlier this month.

Which is notable, given the fact that 42-year-old Shannon Brandt had already admitted to running down 18-year-old Cayler Ellingson with his truck on September 18, and had told police that he’d believed Ellingson to be part of a “Republican extremist” group at the time.

Brandt has already admitted he was drunk as a skunk when he struck and killed Ellingson, who was leaving a street dance event that evening. According to court documents, Brandt told 911 dispatchers following the incident that he’d believed Ellingson to be a dangerous “Republican extremist” who’d threatened him after the two had gotten into a political argument, though police later said there’s no evidence supporting any part of that claim.

"I almost, oh God, I almost just run away, but I thought jeez obviously if it was a total accident I wouldn’t be scared but I know it was more than that," Brandt later said, according to court documents.

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Those details, coupled with evidence showing Ellingson had called his mother telling her he believed he was being followed moments before his death, led to Foster County State’s Attorney Kara Brinster upping the charges against Brandt from criminal vehicular homicide to murder with a dangerous weapon. But despite the mountain of evidence suggesting Brandt had knowingly targeted the teen, earlier this month, Brinster then downgraded the charge to manslaughter, a charge that carries a maximum 10-year prison penalty as opposed to a possible life sentence for murder.

Brandt’s lawyer has claimed that there is “no evidence to support the misplaced allegation of intentional homicide, saying that forensic reports show “this tragedy was an accident” and that “misplaced media hype and community conjecture is no substitute for evidence."

Except for an admission by the guy who killed this kid, the phone call the victim had made, the known falsehood that the teen was a Republican extremist who’d threatened his killer, and a medical examiner’s report initially claiming Ellingson had been run over rather than simply struck by Brandt’s vehicle, which sustained no significant damage.

But sure.

By pleading guilty, Brandt will avoid the upcoming trial that had been scheduled to begin May 30. Ellingson? Still dead.

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