Three suspects were charged Wednesday in the death of a 19-year-old mother who was driven to a Wright County Park, shot in the back of the head in the middle of the night and left on the pavement to die.
Shawn T. Benson, 21, and Edward V. Zelko, 26, both of Buffalo, and Justin M. Jensen, 28, of Maple Lake, were charged with second-degree murder in the death of Cheyenne Clough, 19, also of Buffalo.
Benson is accused of being the one who fatally shot Clough with a long-barreled handgun about 3 a.m. on June 1 at the entrance to Crow Springs Park in Franklin Township. The charges against Jensen and Zelko were for allegedly helping Benson kill Clough and fleeing him and others to northern Minnesota. The three remained jailed ahead of court appearances next week.
The criminal complaint against Benson said that Clough argued with the others hours earlier in Benson’s home about someone snitching on her boyfriend, who was wanted by police on a drug warrant. Authorities say the residence is known by law enforcement as a drug house and Clough recently had been living there.
Jensen later conveyed to Benson and Zelko that Clough be killed and provided the weapon for the deed, the court document continued, which added that Clough and Jensen’s girlfriend had a physical altercation during the argument.
Believing she was being driven home, Clough instead was taken to the park and shot several times by Benson and “left for dead,” the complaint read. The mother of a 3-year-old son died three days later at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.
Benson and Jensen were arrested with other suspects near the Canadian border. Zelko was apprehended before the others and while driving in Todd County in central Minnesota. He mentioned to law enforcement that he was returning from the International Falls area, according to prosecutors.
Two women, the girlfriends of Jensen and Benson, were arrested with the two men. However, the women are not being charged in Clough’s death because “they were just accompanying [the others] as they were fleeing” to northern Minnesota, said Assistant County Attorney Brian Lutes.
“We didn’t have direct evidence [sufficient to prove] they planned to murder Ms. Clough. … They didn’t do anything overt.”
Emergency responders found Clough on the park’s paved drive, according to the charges. She was facedown and suffering from a gunshot wound to the back of the head and to her left shoulder and neck, the court document noted.
Jensen provided Benson with the murder weapon, a .22-caliber handgun stolen in a burglary in Delano, according to the complaint. Benson and Zelko then got in a car with Clough, the charges added.
It was about that time and near where the shooting occurred, the court filing read, when Clough called her mother and said, “Are you up? I’m on my way home.”
Clough “never made it home,” the charges said.
Jensen’s girlfriend, 33-year-old Natasha Brandenburger, told authorities that Benson and Zelko returned to the house and told Jensen that they followed through on his demand. Soon after, all five left for International Falls.
The murder weapon has yet to be recovered, Lutes said. Brandenburger told authorities it was dumped in a river near International Falls, the charges read.
Benson, Jensen and Zelko have all had run-ins with the law in Minnesota to varying degrees in recent years, with each of them convicted of felonies.
At the time of the shooting, Benson was on five years’ probation stemming from an assault conviction in 2014. He’s also been convicted of selling illicit drugs.
Zelko has been convicted of forgery twice, burglary, theft, drunken driving and other alcohol-related offenses. Jensen is on five years’ probation for a felony drug conviction, and he’s been convicted of disorderly conduct and violating the terms of a no-contact order stemming from a domestic abuse case.
Charged earlier this week in northern Minnesota was Thomas F. Nicholson, 26, of International Falls. Nicholson is accused of aiding the five suspects in Clough’s death after they left the Twin Cities area only to be arrested Sunday near International Falls at a home Nicholson was familiar with, according to prosecutors. Nicholson was arrested while driving to that home with three bags belonging to the suspects, police said.
Authorities have yet to disclose how the suspects knew Nicholson or how law enforcement knew to question him.