BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota man was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for running over and killing an 18-year-old after a small-town street dance last year in a case that drew the attention of Donald Trump after the driver initially claimed the teen was a “Republican extremist” who threatened him.
Shannon Brandt, of Glenfield, North Dakota, pleaded guilty in May to manslaughter in connection with Cayler Ellingson's death in September 2022, in McHenry, North Dakota.
Brandt initially claimed he ran Ellingson over after a political argument and that the teen had threatened him and was part of a radical group. Authorities soon afterward said there was little evidence of a political nature to the case.
The case drew national attention and a social media outcry for its alleged political bent. Trump denounced the supposed political circumstances of Ellingson’s death in a rally shortly afterward.
A state district court judge on Friday sentenced Brandt to five years in prison with credit for nearly a year served, followed by three years' supervised probation and a yearlong suspension of his driver's license. The charge's maximum penalty is 10 years in prison, a $20,000 fine or both.
He was initially charged with criminal vehicular homicide, which was later dropped. He was then charged with murder and later pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Brandt had also been charged with leaving the scene of the fatality, since dismissed in a plea deal.
Brandt had been drinking before the argument with Ellingson, whom he struck and knocked down with his SUV after a verbal argument, driving over his torso and legs, according to prosecutor Kara Brinster. An autopsy determined Ellingson was on the ground when he was fatally injured, according to an affidavit.
Brandt called 911 and told a dispatcher he had hit a man with his vehicle and requested an ambulance, according to the court document. He allegedly left the scene before officers arrived, and was later arrested at his home in Glenfield, where officers found him “visibly intoxicated,” according to the affidavit.
Brinster and another prosecutor did not respond to phone messages from The Associated Press for comment on the sentence.
Defense attorney Mark Friese told the AP Brandt "is relieved to have finally been able to offer his apology and to allow the Ellingson family to move forward. It's been a very difficult year for everyone involved.
“It got exacerbated by false information making it into the media and people using this tragedy to advance their political platforms,” Friese said.
Jack Dura, The Associated Press