FARGO — A Moorhead man accused of killing and dismembering his roommate spent eight years under the court-ordered care of a local nonprofit group, raising questions about how officials decided he went from being permanently incapacitated to being able to live independently.

Ethan Martin Broad, 27, was under the care of Catholic Charities North Dakota in Fargo from 2011 until November 2019, when the guardianship was terminated at the request of the organization, court documents show.

“We feel he will do well with his family and natural supports (in Moorhead),” a letter requesting the termination said, adding that “it will not be detrimental for Ethan to be his own guardian.”

That contradicts a 2011 petition for guardianship by Catholic Charities and follow-up reports that claimed Broad’s ability to make and understand decisions was compromised. Those documents said he would need limited guardianship indefinitely.

Dystynee Avery
Dystynee Avery

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“His incapacity is permanent, and he will continue to lack the ability to care for himself, unassisted, to understand complex issues or to otherwise make responsible decisions in his own best interests,” according to a judge's finding of facts in 2011.

A petition to terminate Broad's guardianship came five months before he allegedly killed 19-year-old Dystynee Avery at their apartment in Moorhead. He’s charged in Clay County District Court with two counts of second-degree murder — one alleging intent and the other without intent.

Court documents say Broad got into a fight with Avery on or about April 4 before hitting her over the head with an object, possibly a lead pipe. He then allegedly dragged her to his garage, used several saws to dismember her body and put her remains in nearby dumpsters.

Avery’s remains were found at the Clay County landfill near Hawley, Minn., Moorhead police announced April 22.

Three other defendants are charged with aiding murder: Andrea Catherine Payne, 26, and David Marvin Erno, 22, both of Moorhead, as well as Brandon Everett Leroy Erbstoesser, 33, of West Fargo. Court documents allege the three helped Broad cover up Avery’s death.

Broad, Payne, Erno and Erbstoesser are being held at the Clay County Jail.

Catholic Charities applied for guardianship in April 2011, when Broad was 18. The initial paperwork said he had several mental health disorders, his IQ was 65 and he read at a first-grade level, despite being a junior in high school.

The petition for guardianship said his relationship with his parents was strained. He threatened to drop out of school and “live on the streets,” at one point refusing to attend class for a month, according to the petition.

Annual reports regarding Broad's status, filed from 2011 through 2016, said he would need support and limited guardianship indefinitely. The Forum obtained those annual reports through a public records request.

Annual reports filed between 2017 and 2019 were not released to The Forum. A confidential information form was filed in 2017 regarding those reports.

It’s unclear what changed, if anything, in those years that prompted Catholic Charities to conclude Broad was capable of being his own guardian. Catholic Charities did not return multiple phone and email messages left by The Forum. Broad’s father, Robert, declined to comment for this story.

Cass County District Judge Tom Olson is listed as the judicial official for the case. His office said he was unable to comment on the matter.

The petition to terminate Broad's guardianship noted that he moved from Fargo to Moorhead in April 2019. After his guardianship was terminated in North Dakota, it does not appear he was placed under guardianship in Minnesota. A search of Minnesota court records turned up no applications for guardianship of Broad's care.

Clay County Attorney Brian Melton said via email his office is aware of the guardianship. He expects “competency issues will be raised by the defense and will have to be addressed as part of the prosecution and by the courts.”

Defense attorney Kenneth Kludt, who is representing Broad in the murder case, declined to comment on the criminal charges or the past guardianship.