ND Man Murders Teen For Being ‘Republican Extremist’

Shannon Brandt, a resident of Glenfield, North Dakota, was sentenced to five years in state prison on Friday in a case that garnered significant attention due to its political undertones.

Brandt faced consequences for his actions after he fatally struck 18-year-old Cayler Ellingson with his 2003 Ford Explorer on September 18, 2022, in McHenry, North Dakota — a tragedy that occurred following a heated political disagreement.

In May, Brandt pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The state district court judge factored in nearly a year of credit for time served for the time he spent under house arrest. Additionally, Brandt was sentenced to three years of supervised probation and a yearlong suspension of his driver’s license.

The maximum penalty for such charges could have been 10 years in prison, a $20,000 fine, or both. The victim’s mother, Sheri Ellingson, urged the judge to impose the maximum sentence on Brandt. She expressed the profound impact of Cayler’s loss on their family, emphasizing how Brandt’s actions had forever changed their lives.

The case initially took a controversial turn when police suggested that Brandt had targeted Ellingson due to a political disagreement.

Foster County State Attorney Kara Brinster shed light on the events leading up to the tragedy, stating that Brandt had been drinking and arguing with Ellingson before the incident. Brandt’s 911 call revealed that he felt threatened by Ellingson, whom he believed to be associated with a “Republican extremist group,” claiming Ellingson urged others to harm him after the argument.

“He was threatening me with something to have to do with — something with an extremist Republican group. And then he made a phone call. He made a phone call saying, ‘I thought he was Republican (background noise) or something. You’re going to have to come here and handle him.’ I got scared to death. I didn’t know what to do,” Brandt’s 911 call transcript stated.

Brandt contended that he accidentally struck Ellingson while attempting to distance himself from the confrontation during a crowded event in McHenry. An autopsy report indicated that Ellingson’s fatal injuries were not solely from being struck by Brandt’s vehicle but resulted from being run over after he fell to the ground.

Initially charged with criminal vehicular homicide, the charges against Brandt were later upgraded to murder by Forster County State’s Attorney Kara Brinster, though they were somehow reduced to manslaughter, to which Brandt pleaded guilty on May 18th, 2023.

During the sentencing, Foster County Judge Bradley Cruff blamed Brandt’s autism diagnosis and alcohol for the murder, claiming Brandt “didn’t intentionally run him over. I acknowledge that. I understand what the experts in this case are saying about how your mind works. And you didn’t intentionally kill Cayler…that’s a result of your alcohol consumption.”

The court’s final sentencing and opinion have understandably stirred up a range of emotions and concerns about why they would make excuses for a politically motivated murder, and why Brandt was given such a light sentence for committing an extremely heinous crime.