Saint Paul, MN — Brian Harry Kjellberg, the “white vigilante” convicted of murdering Arnell ‘AJ’ Stewart in St. Paul, was recently denied early release from jail to appeal his murder conviction. On Nov. 29, nearly two years to the date of murdering 27-year-old Stewart and having served about six months of his sentence, Kjellberg appeared in court, defended by his appeals attorney Melvin Welch. Welch said Kjellberg’s been assaulted in jail and has deteriorating health before Judge Leonardo Castro denied his motion.
Kjellberg, a white military veteran who is now 52 years old, fatally stabbed Stewart, a young Black male, in the heart on Dec. 2, 2021. Due to the nature of the killing, Stewart’s family called for first degree murder and hate crimes charges. Kjellberg is considered a vigilante by the community who have publicly compared the killing to those of Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin. “This man is the Eastside of Saint Paul’s version of George Zimmerman, Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan,” said writer Michael Kleber-Diggs after Stewart’s murder (Zimmerman killed Martin and the McMichael brothers and Bryan killed Arbery).
The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office charged Kjellberg with second-degree murder without intent. After a three-day trial in late March 2023, Kjellberg was found guilty by a jury who only needed 90 minutes of deliberation. Two months later at his sentencing, he was given a dispositional departure sentence of 364 days in jail despite the state seeking 10 years in prison. Court documents note 365 days in the sentencing hearing minutes and further court correspondence, however the sentencing order states 364 days.
Kjellberg has been incarcerated in the Ramsey County workhouse since his sentencing. Having to serve only three-fourths of the sentence and given five days time served, Kjellberg expects to be released next month, on or around January 26, 2024.
Minnesota Second Judicial District Chief Judge Leonardo Castro, who oversaw the trial and gave the sentence, said during the hearing that aside from denying his release for reasons of legality, he was denying it in part due to the sentence he imposed on Kjellberg in May. “The sentence that I imposed, many believe was not fair to begin with. And I think releasing him for the two months left that he has remaining, frankly would only compound that belief.”
During his first six months in the Ramsey County system, Kjellberg had received only 9 hours of exercise time, according to his attorney, who said he should have one hour per day but is being held in a separated unit for his safety after being assaulted.
Two days after being sentenced, Kjellberg was “punched in the head hard enough to knock him unconscious” after two inmates “recognized him,” said Welch at the hearing — who also invoked the stabbing of Derek Chauvin in federal prison, saying that inmates spoke of Chauvin while threatening Kjellberg during his transfer from the workhouse to court. Welch said the inmates “discussed his case in great detail and he was recognized despite not having the ability to shave or cut his hair.”
After speaking on the assaults that Kjellberg has endured, Welch said he has “concerns” over the “lack of action” by the Ramsey County Deputies Office to “address violence against Mr. Kjellberg.” Welch said the facts of the case and Kjellberg’s conduct when facing consequences “indicate that there is not a substantial risk” if he was released during appeal. Kjellberg, who noticeably shakes, has suffered past brain injuries and has previously been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, according to his defense attorneys.
Before the final words of denial, Judge Castro said that while he doesn’t believe Kjellberg “is likely to commit another serious crime. He did and was found guilty of a very, very serious crime.”
Months ago on August 29, Welch filed a notice of appeal for Kjellberg’s conviction. He listed three reasons to the court during the hearing: prosecutorial misconduct for “conjecture of race considerations into the trial itself,” concern that there wasn’t a full Schwartz hearing “to review whether or not there was improper influence on the jury with consideration to outside information” and that the evidence sufficiently demonstrated Kjellberg’s self-defense claim.
The State of Minnesota has also filed an appeal. This appeal, on Judge Castro’s sentencing order, asks “whether the district court abused its discretion by granting defendant/respondent’s motion for a dispositional departure, and placing him on probation.”
The appeals have been consolidated together by the courts and the defense’s brief is due on Dec. 29 with the state’s due 45 days later. The appeals are likely to extend into the Summer of 2024 and Kjellberg will have been released by then.
Stay tuned for a full in-depth report and video on the Kjellberg trial and sentencing.
Aside from the initial press conference featuring Stewart’s family, there has been little-to-no coverage of the case and ensuing trial by legacy media outlets. Unicorn Riot has published several videos and articles on what happened to AJ Stewart.
Family Calls for Hate Crimes Charge in Killing of AJ Stewart [March 29, 2022]
Family of AJ Stewart Speak on Patterns of White Supremacy That Led to His Killing Over a Parking Spot [Feb. 15, 2023]
Guilty Verdict in Saint Paul Murder Trial of White Vigilante Not Enough, Says Victim’s Family [May 1, 2023]
Defense Attorney Earl Gray Says Black Foreman is ‘Racist’ After Guilty Verdict, Judge Grants New Hearing [May 16, 2023]
Judge Rejects White Vigilante’s Defense Motions Against Black Foreman, Sets Sentencing Date [May 23, 2023]
Read Kjellberg defense’s motion for release pending appeal below.
Read the state’s response in opposition to motion for release below:
Read Judge Castro’s sentencing order from May 31, 2023 below.
Article cover image by Niko Georgiades for Unicorn Riot.