DULUTH-Three defendants will stand trial on first-degree murder charges in last year's fatal shooting of a Duluth college student.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Mark Munger recently denied motions to dismiss the grand jury indictments against 22-year-old Deandre Demetrius Davenport, 19-year-old Noah Anthony Charles King and 20-year-old Noah Duane Baker.
The decision means the defendants will each face a life sentence if convicted in the February 2017 slaying of 20-year-old University of Minnesota Duluth student William Grahek. Authorities allege that Davenport shot Grahek twice during an East Hillside home invasion, in which the trio was attempting to steal a safe containing drugs and cash.
Davenport, Baker and King were indicted by a St. Louis County grand jury in August on two counts each of first-degree murder. The indictments allege that they were responsible for causing Grahek's death while committing, or attempting to commit, robbery and burglary.
The defendants already were facing intentional second-degree murder and attempted first-degree aggravated robbery charges when the indictments were issued. But defense attorneys in recent months filed a series of motions seeking dismissal of the stiffer charges, citing procedural errors in the grand jury process and a lack of probable cause.
In denying the motions, Munger wrote that a review of the criminal complaints, police reports and witness statements showed "substantial evidence" for a jury to consider.
"The alleged facts present a reasonable probability that (the defendants) committed the crimes as alleged," Munger wrote.
Defense attorneys contended that authorities failed to show that the suspects went to Grahek's home with an intent to kill. They extensively cited the testimony of an inmate who allegedly received an account of the events from Baker while they were incarcerated together.
The inmate, identified only by initials I.N.G., testified that Baker told him the three kicked down a door and confronted Grahek in his living room, ordering him to the ground. They allegedly planned to retrieve the safe from the basement level, but Grahek refused to get down on the ground and instead began approaching the intruders.
At that point, Davenport fired a gun twice, fatally striking Grahek, according to the inmate's statement, which also indicated that the suspects never reached the basement level or removed any items.
St. Louis County prosecutors Vicky Wanta and Jessica Fralich wrote in a response that I.N.G. was just one source of information and that the "totality of the circumstances" painted a picture of an intent to kill Grahek during an aggravated robbery or burglary.
The prosecutors said Davenport went armed with a Glock 17, Baker with a Glock 19 and King with a hammer in case they needed to "hit the dog" that lived with Grahek.
"The hammer was for the dog, the guns were for the people," they wrote. "To say bringing at least one loaded gun does not contribute to an intent or willingness to kill a person does not make sense given the precautions they were openly willing to take with respect to the possible inference presented by Mr. Grahek's dog."
The prosecutors said a review of the scene indicated that Grahek was shot twice on the basement level of the house. He reportedly stumbled upstairs before collapsing as the suspects fled the residence.
Grahek's brother, a roommate who placed the 911 call, testified that he heard a "commotion" in the basement, with a deep voice repeatedly commanding the victim to "get on the ground" before the shots rang out, according to the prosecutors.
"Devin Grahek's testimony suggests a more aggressive scene than what the defendants would rather paint," Wanta and Fralich wrote.
Disputing the notion that the shooting was accidental or inadvertent, they added that an autopsy indicated that Grahek was shot once in the mouth and once in the chest, apparently at close range and in quick succession.
"The act of bringing a loaded firearm with them, the location of the injuries to Mr. Grahek from the shots being fired and the fact that they then fled the scene all support the grand jury's finding that this was an intentional crime," the prosecutors wrote.
No future court dates have been set for Davenport, Baker or King, but two other defendants in the case are scheduled to appear.
Xavier Alfred Haywood, 27, who allegedly instructed the trio to rob Grahek and later harbored them in a Superior hotel, is charged with aiding an offender to avoid arrest. He has a settlement conference set for April 6.
Tara Rai Baker, 20, the sister of Noah Baker and girlfriend of Davenport, is accused of driving her co-defendants to and from Grahek's house. She is charged with aiding and abetting intentional second-degree murder and attempted first-degree aggravated robbery.
Baker earlier this month waived her jury rights, instead opting for a court trial before Munger on May 22. She has a final pretrial hearing scheduled for May 7.