System inadequacy leads to vigilantism

Vigilantism is a sign of trouble. We should never get to the point where citizens take the law into their own hands. A healthy and robust criminal justice system — one that incapacitates predators — plays a key role in ensuring a community never feels the need.

The murder of Lawrence Scully in Grand Marais, and the outpouring of support for Levi Axtell, who has confessed to the murder, is an indication that many in the area felt the “system” was unable or unwilling to fulfill that role.

On March 8, Axtell allegedly bludgeoned Scully to death in his home over suspicions that Scully was stalking children, including Axtell’s daughter. After the murder, Axtell turned himself in to police and confessed, indicating he did it to protect his daughter. 

According to a Star Tribune article found here, many in Grand Marais, including many of Scully’s own family members, have come out in support of Axtell’s actions.

“To me, Levi is like St. George who slayed the dragon — he killed a monster.” 

Scully’s neighbor

Scully’s family members have alleged that he has sexually abused children for decades, including impregnating his teenage sister and fondling his brothers. They were granted a 50-year restraining order against Scully in 2019 due to a “lifelong history of sexual and verbal (abuse) and torture…” Scully’s brother alleges he failed repeatedly to abide by the order.

“It’s too bad that is came to this, but no one is sorry he’s gone.” 

Scully’s niece

In 1981, Scully was convicted of 2nd degree criminal sexual conduct with a 6-year-old girl in Kanabec County. He spent about a year in prison.

In 2018, Axtell petitioned the Cook County Court for a restraining order against Scully based on allegations Scully was routinely parked near children and offering them gifts, etc. The court denied the petition due to a lack of specific threats.

In 2020, Cook County petitioned for a judicial commitment against Scully based on “a risk of harm due to mental illness.” Scully was originally given a stay of commitment, but violated the conditions of the stay and was sent to a mental health facility. He was out in two months.

As a result of perceived system inadequacy, many in Grand Marais are supporting Axtell’s defense against murder charges. Scully’s own family members are even participating in fundraising efforts to defend the man accused of killing their family member.

“They aren’t in favor of vigilantism, but they won’t miss Scully.” 

Sheriff Pat Eliasen, Cook County.

Scully’s murder, and the support for the murderer, is a sign that many in Grand Marais felt the system was unable to protect them. That’s a bad place to be — unfortunately, it’s a place that many in Minnesota are feeling increasingly resigned to.