BRAINERD, Minn. - Valentine’s Day should bring a joyous celebration of love, family and friendship, St. Louis County prosecutor Jessica Fralich told a jury Friday, Dec. 28.
But for the family of 22-year-old University of Minnesota Duluth student William Grahek, who was slain in his own residence on Feb. 14, 2017, that will never be the case again.
“For the Grahek family, Valentine’s Day will forever mark the end of a relationship - an end they didn’t ask for,” Fralich said. “It will be a day to memorialize a friend, son and brother.”
On Friday night, nearly two years after Grahek’s murder, a Crow Wing County jury delivered the Grahek family some long-awaited justice: a conviction for the third and final man who authorities said was responsible for his death.
Deandre Demetrius Davenport, the man accused of firing two fatal shots during an attempted heist of drugs and cash, was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of intentional second-degree murder after a nearly month-long trial. He was acquitted on an unintentional second-degree murder charge, as requested by prosecutors.
The defendant sat and listened with one hand cupped to his chin but did not display any apparent emotion as 6th Judicial District Judge Mark Munger read the verdict. Davenport, 23, will face a mandatory life sentence with the possibility for parole only after 30 years when he appears for sentencing in the coming weeks.
The verdict was announced shortly after 6 p.m. in a Brainerd courtroom, where proceedings were held due to extensive pretrial publicity in Duluth. The jury of six men and six women deliberated for more than four hours before coming to the unanimous decision.
Attorneys on both sides declined to comment ahead of sentencing, which is expected to be held before Munger retires on Jan. 11.
Davenport will be the second defendant to receive a life sentence, after Noah Anthony Charles King, who was found guilty of first-degree murder last month. The other man who entered Grahek’s residence that day, Noah Duane Baker, accepted a plea agreement that has him serving a 30-year sentence for intentional second-degree murder.
Earlier Friday, Fralich told jurors that while the entire incident took less than seven minutes, plans were set in place months prior when Grahek was introduced to Xavier Alfred Haywood, an acquaintance of Davenport’s, who also sold drugs.
“It is clear that the three developed a plan, they executed that plan, and even though it didn’t go as planned, they continued to try to hide, conceal and destroy evidence of their guilt,” she said in her closing argument.
Defense attorney Kassius Benson, however, was unequivocal in asserting the innocence of his client.
“Deandre Davenport was not involved in an armed robbery plan,” he told the jury. “Deandre Davenport did not enter William Grahek’s house on Valentine’s Day. Deandre Davenport did not shoot William Grahek. He is innocent of every charge he is facing.”
A central issue posed to jurors was the conflicting accounts of Baker.
In entering his guilty plea in April, Baker testified that all three men went to the residence, with Davenport firing the fatal shots. But Baker has since recanted the entire account, subsequently testifying that he carried out the crime alone.
Fralich told jurors to believe Baker’s original account. She said Baker provided new information that police were able to corroborate in his April plea and said his recent change-of-story is an example of “backpedaling” to save his friends.
But Benson blasted Baker’s initial statement as a self-serving move motivated by a plea agreement that spared him a life sentence.
“That’s all the incentive in the world for him to tell the investigators and the prosecutors what he believes they want to hear,” the defense attorney said of the April plea.
Benson contended that all physical evidence in the case was consistent with Baker acting alone, noting, for example, that only one set of footprints could be identified in the alley behind Grahek’s house. He added that it was “impossible” for the shooter to have fled to the getaway vehicle parked a few blocks away under the timeline established by investigators.
“Their case has imploded upon itself over the course of this trial,” he said, alleging prosecutors were out for a “win” instead of the truth.
Fralich, on rebuttal, said prosecutors laid out “the good, the bad and the ugly” and told jurors it was their job to identify the truth. She stood by the timeline, which she said was based on estimates rather than precise measures, and said the three suspects would have been “running for their lives as William Grahek was fighting for his.”
The prosecutor acknowledged that the case against Davenport was largely circumstantial, but asked jurors to consider the totality of evidence rather than “look at pieces in a vacuum.” Fralich said a lack of physical evidence such as DNA or fingerprints should not come as a surprise, as it was a meticulously planned crime.
“These three guys went to the house with the intention of not leaving a trace, and that’s just what they did,” she said. “They left no trace.”
Benson told jurors there was “miles from enough evidence” to convict Davenport on any of the four counts.
“Their case has fallen apart,” he said. “It doesn’t add up. Mr. Baker’s April statement is not corroborated by anything else. Everything points to Mr. Baker acting alone.”
Fralich, however, told jurors to consider that Davenport handed off the murder weapon to an acquaintance in Austin, Minn., as well as deleting 19 phone contacts with Haywood on the day of the shooting as evidence of his involvement.
She said the decision to carry deadly weapons during a home invasion provided sufficient basis for a conviction on all counts except unintentional murder.
“This was no accident,” she said. “No, it wasn’t premeditated. They didn't go in with a plan to kill William Grahek. But when he refused, they didn’t run. They didn’t drop their weapons. They didn’t change course. They made a choice. It was intentional.”