On Wednesday, April 26, 2023, Levi Axtell, a 27-year-old father from Cook County, Minnesota, entered the sheriff’s office and confessed to the murder of 77-year-old Lawrence Scully.
Axtell accused Scully, a convicted sex offender, of stalking his young daughter and reportedly used a moose antler to “finish off” the victim after repeatedly striking him with a shovel. Axtell was covered in blood and had his head in his hands as he made the confession.
According to court documents, Scully was imprisoned in 1979 for molesting a six-year-old girl and was released in 1981 after filing a post-conviction relief petition. Scully submitted a petition to run for mayor of Grand Marais, Minnesota, in 2014, but by 2018, he was once more the subject of accusations of sexual misconduct involving minors. Axtell requested a restraining order that year, claiming that Scully was stalking his child.
Axtell’s request for an order of protection was originally approved but later withdrawn by Judge Michael Cuzzo, who stated that “the allegations are not proven true.” However, Axtell long suspected Scully of parking his car in places where minors were present and believed that he would re-offend. According to a criminal complaint, Axtell broke into Scully’s house at around 4:45 p.m. and used a shovel he had found on the victim’s porch to strike him 15-20 times.
Scully had arm wounds from self-defense, according to a medical examiner. A neighbor saw a van pull up at Scully’s house, smash a car, and then flee home, so they both called 911 to report the incident. Screaming was heard according to the witness. Scully suffered “major head trauma” and was “surrounded by blood” when a Cook County sheriff’s officer entered the building around 5 p.m. on Wednesday. He was “obviously dead,” the officer reported.
Axtell reportedly used a sizable moose antler to “finish off” Scully. He claimed to have known Scully for a long time and believed him to have sexually offended against children in the past. Axtell believed that Scully was following his child and had broken into his house to take matters into his own hands. According to Sheriff Pat Eliasen, Scully was the subject of allegations, but an investigation “didn’t uncover anything.”
Axtell only had one arrest on his record, which was for illegal property damage. The Axtell family was reportedly getting ready to start an online fundraising campaign to assist with the investigation, and they had gotten a lot of support from the community. Axtell’s sister, Katrina Axtell, wrote on Facebook that she was overwhelmed by the amount of support they had received and encouraged the community to come together to support both families involved.
According to Minnesota court documents, Scully was committed to a mental hospital in July 2020 but was released the following year. The court approved the use of antipsychotic drugs in June 2021. It is unclear whether Scully’s mental health played a role in his alleged stalking of Axtell’s child or whether it contributed to his murder.
The tragic incident has sparked a conversation about vigilantism and the dangers of taking the law into one’s own hands. While many sympathize with Axtell’s desire to protect his child from a potential predator, the use of violence and murder as a means of achieving justice is never acceptable.
The justice system is designed to punish criminals and protect the innocent, and it is essential to trust in that system rather than taking matters into one’s own hands.