Alleged getaway driver in Duluth slaying wants charges tossed

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There is insufficient evidence to show that Tara Rai Baker served as a getaway driver for her brother, boyfriend and another man after the attempted robbery-turned-murder of a Duluth college student — or that she even knew about the fatal shooting until several hours after the fact.

That is the argument from defense attorneys seeking dismissal of two felony charges against the 23-year-old Duluth woman in connection with the February death of William Grahek.

Authorities said Baker's 1999 Jeep Cherokee was captured on surveillance video in the area of Grahek's residence, 510 E. 11th St., shortly before and after the 22-year-old University of Minnesota Duluth student was fatally shot on Feb. 14.

A criminal complaint alleges that she dropped off her boyfriend, Deandre Demetrius Davenport, and brother, Noah Duane Baker, in the area, where they met up with Noah Anthony Charles King, who lived across an alley from Grahek.

The trio is then accused of attempting to rob Grahek of drugs and cash — with Davenport shooting him twice when he refused — before being picked up in the Jeep by Tara Baker and fleeing at a high rate of speed as police swarmed the scene.

But authorities have failed to produce any evidence to show that Tara Baker was actually driving the vehicle at the time, defense attorneys Gerald Wallace and Sonia Sturdevant argued in an 11-page motion filed Thursday.

They want 6th Judicial District Judge Mark Munger to toss Baker's charges of aiding and abetting intentional second-degree murder and attempted first-degree aggravated robbery for lack of probable cause.

"No eyewitnesses identify Tara Baker as being at the scene," the attorneys wrote. "No eyewitness identifies Tara Baker as being in the vehicle at the time immediately prior to or immediately after the alleged robbery and murder of Mr. Grahek. Noah Baker's own statements clearly indicate that Tara Baker had no knowledge before the alleged murder of William Grahek what Noah Baker, Noah King, and Deandre Davenport had set out to do."

Baker is the first of the five defendants in the case to mount a challenge to the charges, which were filed in March. The St. Louis County Attorney's Office has until Dec. 11 to file a response in opposition to the motion.

Davenport, 22; King, 19; and Noah Baker, 20, each were indicted by a grand jury in August on two counts of first-degree murder and face potential life sentences if convicted.

The final defendant, 26-year-old Xavier Alfred Haywood, is charged with a felony count of aiding an offender to avoid arrest. He is accused of ordering the attempted robbery and arranging a hotel room in Superior to harbor his co-defendants after the shooting.

Prosecutors said in charging documents that Tara Baker acknowledged that she was the only person who drives the Jeep. Further, they said she confirmed she was driving when the vehicle was captured in surveillance footage in the half-hour immediately before and after the shooting.

But that assertion is contradicted by the defense brief, which claims there is no evidence that Baker was with the Jeep until at least 15 minutes after the shooting, when she was seen getting gas just a few blocks from the crime scene.

Her attorneys argue that the Jeep was being driven by Noah Baker prior to that point. He had been known to drive the vehicle on occasion, even getting charged with a hit-and-run crash at one point, they said.

"Ms. Baker's own statement to the police shows that she had no knowledge of what the three men allegedly set out to do," Wallace and Sturdevant wrote. "There is no evidence Ms. Baker had any knowledge her Jeep was being used to transport the three men to the scene of the alleged crimes."

The brief contends that while Baker may have been with the three co-defendants a short time after the shooting, it was not until later in the evening when she arrived at the hotel that she learned of the homicide through TV news.

"Even when all of the State's evidence is viewed in an attempted to find Ms. Baker guilty of aiding and abetting the alleged offenses, it is still not sufficient," the attorneys wrote. "Ms. Baker did nothing to further the crime before it happened, had limited involvement in the aftermath and only acquiesced to the activities of the three males with her at a later time out of fear."

Baker remains in the St. Louis County Jail on $250,000 bail as she challenges the charges.

Meanwhile, her four co-defendants are all scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 20.