For more than two years, members of the Grahek family have been coming to court.
They’ve sat in on dozens of hearings and days of testimony in five cases. They’ve endured two trials in Duluth and another in Brainerd.
On Friday, they made what they hope will be their final trip to the St. Louis County Courthouse.
They watched as 28-year-old Xavier Alfred Haywood was sentenced to nearly 16 years in prison for aiding the men responsible for the February 2017 murder of 22-year-old University of Minnesota Duluth student William Grahek.
“I’m glad we’re finally here,” the victim’s mother, Heidi Errickson-Grahek, said afterward. “It feels really good to see justice.”
Grahek was shot inside his own East Hillside residence during a Valentine’s Day home invasion after he reportedly refused to turn over a safe containing drugs and cash to a trio of armed intruders.
The case, which had no eyewitnesses but magnitudes of forensic evidence, resulted in convictions for all five defendants, including four who have received substantial prison time and two who were sentenced to life.
“We’ve talked throughout about getting justice,” Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jessica Fralich told the News Tribune outside the courtroom. “Today, we’re finally there.”
Haywood was the sole connection between Grahek and the three men responsible for his death, according to prosecutors. Having met through a drug deal, he allegedly provided Deandre Demetrius Davenport, Noah Duane Baker and Noah Anthony Charles King with detailed information about Grahek’s residence and the location of the safe.
Haywood’s charge, however, was related solely to his conduct after the murder. Authorities said he arranged a Superior hotel room to harbor his co-defendants, helped Baker destroy clothes worn during the home invasion and lied to police about his knowledge of the incident.
A Duluth jury in March convicted him on a felony count of aiding an offender as an accomplice after the fact.Haywood ‘delayed justice’
In arguing for a 19 ½-year prison sentence, Fralich told the judge that Haywood’s actions kept police from making arrests for three weeks. And while Davenport and King are facing life sentences as a result of first-degree murder convictions, prosecutors had to offer Baker a 30-year term for intentional second-degree murder in order to secure key pieces of evidence, including the burn site.
“He lied to the officers,” Fralich said. “He delayed the process. He delayed justice for the family of William Grahek.”
Defense attorney Daniel Repka said a sentence of about six to eight years was more appropriate. He asked the judge to look to the case of co-defendant Tara Rai Baker, who had a prison sentence stayed for probation as a result of her conviction for lying to police.
“He didn’t assault anybody,” Repka said. “He didn’t murder anybody.”
Repka said after the hearing that he anticipates an appeal. Earlier in the hearing, he unsuccessfully asked Munger to vacate Haywood’s conviction and order a new trial on the basis that he was denied the right to a unanimous verdict because the jury was not asked to determine which co-defendants he specifically aided in his actions.
Haywood took the opportunity to address the court, saying, “Today is the first time my voice has been heard in over two years.”
The defendant, who said his own brother was murdered when they were teens, denied a role in Grahek’s killing, insisting his character has been disparaged on social media, television and in the newspaper.
Haywood, who said he has lived in Duluth for nearly a decade, said he has struggled with drug addiction and mental illness but has made strides to improve his life. He expressed condolences to Grahek’s family and apologized to his own family.
“I am more than just a defendant in court,” he said. “This charge doesn’t define me. I’m a husband, a father, a brother.”
Munger took a 15-minute recess before announcing his decision. The charge is an “unranked offense” under Minnesota law, meaning the judge has broad discretion in sentencing.
When he returned to the bench, Munger made it clear that Haywood was not wrongfully caught up in the case or overcharged. He imposed a 190-month term.
“You are not the victim in this case by any stretch of the imagination,” Munger told Haywood.Chance to heal
The Grahek family has endured immense tragedy since the murder. His father, St. Paul police Sgt. Jon Grahek, died in January 2018, just months after he was diagnosed with cancer. Errickson-Grahek also has undergone surgery after being diagnosed with cancer in October.
Grahek’s brother and roommate, Devin Grahek, ended up leaving UMD and returning home to be with his mother.
For the fifth and final time, family and friends gathered in the courtroom to share memories as another defendant is sentenced. Phrases like “fun,” goofy” and “full of joy” are frequently thrown around to describe the man who served in the U.S. Army Reserve and was planning to enlist full-time.
The victim’s grandmother, Jan Errickson, recalled a memorial service in the Twin Cities that was attended by more than 400 people.
“We know he was not perfect,” she told the court, “but he was a good person, a good son, a good friend and a wonderful grandson.”
Grahek’s name will live on at UMD, where a rugby scholarship has already been established in his name. He was an avid member of the Fighting Penguins.
In addition to Haywood’s likely appeal, Davenport and King have already taken their cases to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which automatically reviews first-degree murder cases. But, barring a successful appeal, Friday was the end of the long road for the Grahek family.
Errickson-Grahek said she would be “forever grateful” to the Duluth Police Department and prosecutors Fralich and Vicky Wanta.
“I’m sorry Jon couldn’t be here to see it,” she said. “But I hope it will allow Devin and I to move on - to heal a little bit and get into a new normal.”