A 27-year-old father fatally beat an elderly man he suspected of sexually abusing children, then he drove from his victim's North Shore home to the Sheriff's Office and surrendered, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday.
Levi W. Axtell was charged in Cook County District Court with second-degree intentional murder in connection with the death Wednesday afternoon of Lawrence V. Scully in the 77-year-old man's home just north of Hwy. 61 in Grand Marais, Minn.
Axtell appeared via video from the Cook County jail Friday as attorneys debated the amount of bail he would need to post in order to be released as his case continued.
"This was a brutal attack without provocation on an elderly man," said County Attorney Molly Hicken, who asked Judge Michael Cuzzo to set bail at $1 million.
Defense attorney Dennis Shaw did not propose a specific bail amount but noted that his client had no serious criminal history until the current charges, and his strong and longtime ties to the Grand Marais community make him a minimal flight risk.
Cuzzo agreed with the prosecution, saying, "Given the nature of the charge, that alone presents a flight risk." Axtell remains jailed ahead of a return to court April 10.
In 2018, Axtell alleged that his 22-month-old daughter was stalked by Scully, who sat nearby in a van as she was taken on walks from her Grand Marais day care.
"He has been there many times stalking children in his van," Axtell wrote in a request for the court to issue an order for protection. "He is a convicted pedophile, and him stalking and attempting to groom my daughter is completely inappropriate and needs to stop."
The request was granted temporarily, then dismissed within several weeks, according to court records.
About two years later, Axtell posted on Facebook a photo of someone pointing a gun behind the words "Only cure for pedophiles. A bullet." He added the comment, "People always ask me why I hate pedophiles. They assume I've been abused. But really I think being protective is just an Axtell trait."
Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen confirmed Thursday that in 1979 Scully was convicted in Kanabec County for sexually assaulting a 6-year-old girl. Scully left prison in 1982, according to state Department of Corrections records. Scully moved to the North Shore in the early 1980s.
According to Friday's criminal complaint and a related court document:
Shortly after 4:45 p.m., a caller told emergency dispatch he saw someone in a minivan pull into Scully's driveway on E. 5th Street and run into the house. The caller immediately heard screaming and saw the van leave.
Moments later, an intoxicated Axtell arrived at the Sheriff's Office in the van. Covered in blood, he walked into the lobby, dropped to his knees and "put his hands on his head and said that he had murdered [Scully] with a shovel," the court filings read. He demanded to be handcuffed, saying he was going to hurt someone otherwise.
A sheriff's deputy located Scully in his home, "obviously dead from the serious nature of his head wounds," the charging document continued.
Axtell told law enforcement that he grabbed the shovel off the deck, hit Scully 15 to 20 times, and "finished him off" with several more blows with a large moose antler.
He said he had known Scully for a long time "and believed him to have sexually offended against children in the past," the complaint read. "[Axtell] said he had observed [Scully] parked in the vehicle at locations where children were present and believed he would reoffend."
Sheriff Eliasen said Friday there had been allegations over the years against Scully, "but an investigation didn't reveal anything. Most of the reports were regarding harassment" and trespassing at a Holiday gas station where Axtell worked.
A review of Axtell's criminal history includes him pleading guilty to a felony in 2018 for vandalizing a pastor's car outside a church in nearby Hovland. The charge was dismissed once he completed three years' probation.
Axtell is a nephew of Todd Axtell, St. Paul's police chief from 2016 until 2022.
"I love my nephew and my entire family, a family that has been deeply impacted by this heartbreaking incident," Todd Axtell told the Star Tribune. "I'm also thinking about the amazing Grand Marais community during this difficult time. I have always believed in, and supported, the criminal justice system — a system that will now do what it's designed to do."
In 2014, Scully came up well short in his bid to be mayor of Grand Marais, a popular getaway destination on the Lake Superior shore.
During a mayoral candidates' forum with WTIP Radio and Cook County News-Herald in October 2014, a few weeks before the election, Scully said he used to live in the Twin Cities, graduated from Hopkins High School and moved to Grand Marais in the early 1980s. He said he did electrical wiring work, volunteered helping seniors and has done antler carvings.
Scully received 42 votes. Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux won with 345 votes and unseated incumbent Larry Carlson.
Staff writers Liz Sawyer and Abby Simons contributed to this report.