Prosecutors on Tuesday began building their case against the final defendant in the robbery-turned-murder of University of Minnesota Duluth student William Grahek.
Xavier Alfred Haywood, 28, faces a felony charge of aiding an offender as an accomplice after the fact. Haywood allegedly harbored several co-defendants at a Superior hotel after their attempt to rob Grahek ended in his shooting death on Valentine's Day 2017.
In her opening statement before 6th District Senior Judge Mark Munger, Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Vicky Wanta told jurors the evidence would show that Haywood was the sole connection between Grahek and the three men convicted of his murder: Noah Baker, Deandre Davenport and Noah King.
Wanta told jurors the state believes Haywood met with Grahek in December 2016 to discuss drug transactions and that he provided information about Grahek's supply of drugs and cash to Baker, Davenport and King, who then planned to rob Grahek at his house at 510 E. 11th St.
Davenport shot Grahek twice when he refused to comply with their demands, according to evidence presented at earlier trials. Prosecutors say Haywood then arranged the hotel room at the Signature Inn in Superior through his girlfriend.
Wanta also alleged that Haywood drove Baker from the hotel room to Chester Bowl to retrieve a bag containing the clothing Baker, Davenport and King wore during the invasion. The two then drove to Morgan Park, the prosecution alleges, where Baker burned the clothes.
Phone records showed that Haywood performed a Google search on Feb. 16 — less than 48 hours after Grahek's killing — to look up the state statute for aiding an offender, days before authorities knew Haywood's name, Wanta told jurors.
In his opening statement, Haywood's attorney, Daniel Repka, told jurors that the government was seeking justice for the victim's family and for the community.
"Unfortunately, the prosecution has lost sight of that justice," Repka said, calling Grahek's death a "tragic murder."
"Mr. Haywood has nothing to do with that murder," Repka told the jury, adding that the government "cast a wide net and scooped up" a lot of people in its quest for justice, including people who weren't involved.
"That's not justice," Repka said.
The prosecution on Tuesday called four witnesses. Among the highlights from their testimony:
• Duluth police investigators Daniel Saletel and Mike Gilbert reviewed photos Saletel took of the crime scene at Grahek's house on the day of the shooting and several months later.
The photos showed the safe Grahek kept in his room, which contained more than $1,400 in cash along with four Mason jars and a plastic bag filled with what police believed to be marijuana. Police also found a plastic bag containing a white powder in the safe, along with a substance they believed to be hash oil.
Investigators also found what they believed to be marijuana on a nearby table, along with more white powder, a scale, a grinding apparatus and cardboard that Saletel said could be used to cut drugs such as cocaine. A rolled-up $5 bill also was found on the table. None of the suspected drugs was ever tested, however, Gilbert said Tuesday.
The photos also showed two spent shell casings and two unfired casings that were found in the laundry room, where Grahek was believed shot.
When asked if there was any evidence suggesting Haywood was ever at Grahek's home, each investigator said "no." Both also said no evidence was found at the home that ties Haywood to Grahek's death in any way.
• Tara Baker, Noah Baker's sister, testified that she knew Haywood through Davenport, with whom she has two daughters. Keeping her eyes mostly downward on the stand, she said Davenport asked her to come to the Signature Inn on the night of the shooting. She said she spent two nights at the hotel with Davenport, her daughters and Noah Baker, and that Haywood visited the hotel "maybe twice."
Haywood and Noah Baker left together for a time at one point, Tara Baker testified, but she said she didn't know where they went.
• Haywood's girlfriend, Sage Matheson, testified Tuesday that she and her friends often "like to party in hotel rooms" and that Davenport asked her to reserve the hotel room in Superior because he wanted to spend Valentine's Day there with Tara Baker.
Matheson testified that she and Haywood picked up Davenport from his home in Duluth on the day of the shooting and drove him in Haywood's SUV to the hotel. She said that neither Davenport nor Haywood acted unusually that day. After checking in, Matheson said that she and Haywood left Davenport at the hotel.
Repka, in his cross examination, noted that Matheson initially told police she drove Davenport to the hotel alone, in her own car. Matheson told Repka that she had been confused when she first spoke with police and that she later recalled that she and Haywood drove Davenport together.
Davenport and King both were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Noah Baker pleaded guilty to intentional-second degree murder and is serving a 30-year prison sentence, while Tara Baker was placed on probation for lying to police about the incident.
The trial continues Wednesday.