Shannon Brandt, a man who pleaded guilty to running down and killing conservative teenager Cayler Ellingson, 18, was sentenced to five years in prison after accepting a plea deal.
On the night of the crime, Brandt, 42, reportedly got into a verbal altercation with the 18-year-old at a street dance event. The teen called his mother when the man began to pursue him in his vehicle, telling her that he was concerned for his safety.
Brandt soon plowed into Ellingson with his 2003 Ford Explorer, knocking him to the ground. He then drove over the teen’s “torso and legs,” killing him. Brandt then fled the scene of the crime before returning a short while later to call 911.
In the 911 call, Brandt claimed that the boy was affiliated with a “right-wing extremist group,” a claim that has been thoroughly debunked. “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 have to come here and handle him.’ I got scared to death. I didn’t know what to do,” Brandt said, according to a transcript of the call.
Despite the heinous nature of the crime, Brandt was sentenced to just five years in prison on Friday. He will also get credit for time served under house arrest, which will reduce his jail sentence by nearly a full year. Brant will also be under supervised release for one year.
Brandt was initially charged with intentional homicide in the case, though Foster County State’s Attorney Kara E Brinster, with the approval of Southeast Judicial District Judge Bradley Cruff, downgraded murder charges against Brandt to manslaughter.
According to a report from KFGO, Brandt’s psychological state was factored into the judge’s decision. Judge Bradley Cruff “spent a significant portion of his sentencing addressing Brandt’s autism diagnosis, which the experts said impacted his ability to interpret social situations and prompted an exaggerated reaction and response to the confrontation with Ellingson,” KFGO reported.
“You 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. But he did die. And that’s a result of your alcohol consumption. You recklessly pushed Cayler to the ground with your SUV, you recklessly ran him over, and you recklessly killed him,” Cruff said.
A number of Ellingson’s family members also spoke at the sentencing hearing, including his mother, Sheri, who asked the judge to discard the plea agreement and impose the maximum sentence for manslaughter, which is 10 years in prison. “Shannon, you took a piece of our family that’s not replaceable. When you chose to take Cayler’s life and happiness you took ours too. You have caused our family endless pain, heartache, sleepless nights. Our days, months, and years will never be the same because of your selfishness,” she said.
Brandt also addressed the courtroom prior to his sentencing and said he “takes responsibility” for Ellingson’s death. “I’m here to take responsibility for the role I played in this tragedy. I’m very sorry to the Ellingson family, my family, and anybody else that has been affected by my actions. I have always enjoyed seeing the Ellingsons and would never have intentionally caused harm to any of them. I am truly devastated by the impact this has had on the entire community,” Brandt said.