Drug feud gave rise to Pelican Rapids murder plot, shooting
On an early October night, eight people allegedly drove to a Pelican Rapids home with black clothing, rubber gloves, a wide assortment of deadly weapons and apparently bad intentions.
Minutes later, they were fleeing for their lives as the man they're accused of setting out to kill came after them with a gun, according to charges filed in Otter Tail County District Court.
Now, they're charged with conspiracy to commit murder in what police say was a plot to settle a score over a stolen backpack full of drugs and money by robbing the man's house, killing him and everyone else inside, including his wife and children, and then burning the house down.
And the man accused of shooting at them is charged with attempted murder.
Five of the eight have been named: Fergus Falls residents Kevin Forer, 18; Brandtly Hutson, 18; Kimberly Ryan, 36; and Branagen Theisen, 21, as well as Zack Stewart, 18, of Erhard. The other three have not been identified because they are juveniles.
In court documents, Stewart is identified by an unnamed witness as the ringleader of the group, though accounts of this are muddled.
The man the group allegedly planned to rob and kill before authorities say he shot at them is 28-year-old Fikret Saric.
Michell Eldien, the assistant Otter Tail County attorney prosecuting the case, said the dispute between the two parties, which came to a head Oct. 4, appears to stem from a backpack containing marijuana, drug paraphernalia and hundreds of dollars in cash.
The backpack apparently belonged to one of the juvenile defendants. Some time prior to the alleged attempted murders, another juvenile allegedly stole the backpack and gave it to Saric and his associates, saying Saric had threatened to harm him for reasons not detailed in the criminal complaints.
Authorities believe the backpack's original owner then hatched a plot to retrieve it and enact violent revenge on Saric.
The plan, according to the complaints, was to go to Saric's home in two cars under the guise of buying marijuana from him. The conspirators then planned to storm the house, armed variously with bear mace, a knife, a lead pipe, a crowbar, a baseball bat, a machete and a gun, authorities alleged in court records.
They intended to kill everyone inside, pour gasoline throughout the house and then burn it to destroy the evidence, according to the complaints.
A witness who is not named in the complaint told police the conspirators "were all excited and that they were going to kill the others, take their (expletive), and there would be no witnesses."
Eldien said Saric, his wife and multiple children live at the house. It's not clear if others live there as well.
According to court records:
The group of eight arrived shortly before 11 p.m. Theisen and another defendant were permitted to enter the home as they had planned, but one of the occupants saw Theisen had a knife and attacked him.
A scuffle ensued, and Saric emerged from the house with a gun, chasing one of the defendants. He fired at and struck one of the conspirators' cars, which fled with Saric's associates in hot pursuit in another car.
The conspirators, "scared and visibly shaken," according to the complaints, then contacted the police saying Saric was trying to kill them.
That's how the case came to light, Eldien said. The defendants initially told police they had gone to his home to buy drugs, but investigators unraveled that story.
The defendants were arrested and charged at various times over the past two weeks as authorities pieced the case together.
Four of the adults accused of plotting to murder Saric remain in custody on bail ranging from $50,000 to $75,000 with conditions and $75,000 to $100,000 without. Brandtly Hutson also has the option to post $5,000 cash. Only Forer has bailed out, posting a bond of $30,000 or $3,000 cash.
Saric is also in custody on bail of $150,000 with conditions and $250,000 without. He actually faces a longer potential sentence than the allegedly conspirators. Saric could get 40 years in prison for each count of attempted murder; the alleged conspirators could get 20 years for conspiracy to commit murder and 10 years for conspiracy to commit assault.
Lawyers for the defendants could not be reached immediately for comment.
Eldien said local authorities had not previously been monitoring Saric's home for potential drug activity.
Saric has a 2009 conviction for disorderly conduct that did not involve any of the other people in this case.
Among the alleged conspirators, Branagen Theisen has the most extensive criminal record, with misdemeanor assault and drug convictions in 2011 and a theft conviction earlier this year.
Theisen and Hutson both were convicted earlier this month of misdemeanor property damage charges stemming from a tire-slashing incident in Fergus Falls.
Zack Stewart and Ryan have no prior convictions as adults.
One of the juveniles charged allegedly said Ryan called him Oct. 9, worried her children would be taken from her if she were caught, according to court records. He told her if anyone turned her in, "they would all die."