When Darrel Darryl Mayhew entered a Park Point home and struck 70-year-old Larry Watczak over the head with a bottle, he got away with roughly $2 in cash, a tablet computer and a cellphone.
That decision, no matter how rash, will cost Mayhew, 31, the next 20 years of his life. But it cost Watczak his life.
"Somewhere down the road, he will be released from prison and people may say he has paid his debt to society," the victim's brother, Jeff Watczak, said Monday. "Maybe so, but he will never repay the debt he owes to the friends and family of Larry Watczak."
Sixth Judicial District Judge Dale Harris sentenced Mayhew to an above-guideline prison term after hearing several victim-impact statements from Watczak's family and friends.
Mayhew, representing himself in court, pleaded guilty last month to a charge of unintentional second-degree murder in the Jan. 2 incident. He agreed to the aggravated sentence on the basis that the crime occurred at Watczak's home, where he had an expectation of privacy.
Mayhew testified at his plea hearing that he was looking for work and stopped to visit an acquaintance on Park Point before ending up at Watczak's residence on the 800 block of South Lake Avenue. He said he knocked on the door but didn't receive any response, so he entered through the unlocked door.
Mayhew said he found Watczak on the couch watching TV. He admitted that he struck the victim with a bottle and then threw a blanket over his head, demanding money before leaving with the handful of belongings. Watczak was able to briefly speak with police officers before he slipped into a coma. He died 10 days later.
St. Louis County prosecutor Vicky Wanta said the 20-year sentence is "as fair as we can be."
A grand jury declined to indict Mayhew on more serious murder charges. After initially disputing the allegations, Mayhew reached out to prosecutors to arrange the plea agreement. Wanta said the defendant showed remorse in their meeting and sent a letter of apology to the victim's family.
"There is absolutely no reason Mr. Watczak should've been killed while in his own home, sitting on his own couch, while watching his own TV," the prosecutor said. "Mr. Mayhew took a lot from this community when he made a quick, bad decision, which proved fatal."
Watczak spent his career working as a mechanic, retiring from Minnesota Power. Family and friends described him as a "motorhead" who loved classic cars.
Erik Watczak said he still finds himself picking up the phone to call his father, only to remember that he's gone.
"Mr. Mayhew, with his actions, stole a father, grandfather, brother and a great friend to others," he said. "Every day I have to deal with another aspect of not having my father in my life."
Erik Watczak disputed the sincerity of the defendant's remorse, calling his letter to the family "pitiful."
"The fact that Mr. Mayhew could even fathom hitting an elderly man over the head with a bottle escapes me," he said. "I believe he has no consideration for anyone other than himself — or a conscience, for that matter."
Mayhew repeatedly apologized to the family before receiving his sentence.
"I want to say sorry to the family, and I know how you feel," he said. "I love you all. If you don't forgive me, I understand."
Harris told Mayhew that accepting responsibility was an important first step. He also addressed the "unimaginable loss" to Watczak's family.
"An elderly man was violently assaulted in his own home for some change and a few personal belongings," the judge said. "It was a senseless act. Mr. Mayhew, I don't think you yourself even know why you did what you did."
Jeff Watczak noted that whether the sentence is "240 months or 240 years, Larry's not coming back." He thanked the Duluth Police Department, St. Louis County Attorney's Office and the court for bring the case to a close in just over five months.
"To be at the point of sentencing in such a short time means people have done their jobs well, and his family and friends are grateful for that," he said.