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Duluth murder suspect seeks to move trial

The man accused of fatally shooting a Duluth college student during an attempted robbery of drugs and cash seeks to move his trial out of Duluth.

An attorney for Deandre Demetrius Davenport cited extensive local news coverage in bringing the motion for a change of venue this week, suggesting that the proceedings instead be held in Brainerd or Minneapolis.

Davenport, who turns 23 on Friday, is accused of firing two shots that killed 22-year-old University of Minnesota Duluth student William Grahek during a home invasion in the East Hillside neighborhood on Feb. 14, 2017.

The trial is set to begin Dec. 4 with jury selection and could last up to three weeks. If convicted of the most serious charges, Davenport would face life in prison.

Davenport's attorney, Kassius Benson of Minneapolis, noted the case has been the subject of consistent news coverage in the Duluth market for the past 18 months, in part because of the victim's status as a UMD student and the son of a now-deceased St. Paul police sergeant.

But the case has also led to charges against four other people, with two guilty pleas already entered. One of the co-defendants, who was present during the home invasion, testified this spring that Davenport shot Grahak after the victim refused to comply with his demands.

"Pretrial publicity reporting of the case including the results of co-defendant cases has created 'the truth' of the case that cannot be avoided as well as created a likelihood that St. Louis County residents have formed opinions, judgment and prejudice before Mr. Davenport's trial," Benson wrote in an eight-page memorandum.

Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure state a change of venue should be granted "whenever potentially prejudicial material creates a reasonable likelihood that a fair trial cannot be had. Actual prejudice need not be shown."

However, Minnesota courts have recognized a potential juror's mere exposure to pretrial publicity is not necessarily basis for a finding of prejudice, and that modern technology has made it easy for any resident of the state to obtain information about a specific case.

But Benson, who recently earned a second-degree murder acquittal for Aaron Demetrius Humphreys in an unrelated murder case tried before a Duluth jury, contended that Grahek's death has received significantly more attention in St. Louis County.

"Undoubtedly, anyone even mildly interested in the case knows of the guilty pleas and the victim's status as a college student in Duluth and as the son of a police officer," he wrote. "The coverage has been consistent. The St. Louis County community will not have an opportunity to 'cool off' before the murder trial in December 2018."

The St. Louis County Attorney's Office has yet to issue a response to the motion. Sixth Judicial District Judge Mark Munger is presiding over the case.

Davenport is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, intentional second-degree murder and attempted first-degree aggravated robbery. The first-degree murder charges carry mandatory life sentences..

A co-defendant, 20-year-old Noah Anthony Charles King, is set to face trial on identical charges beginning Oct. 29. He has not filed any change of venue motion.

Noah Duane Baker, 21, is serving a 30-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to intentional second-degree murder for his role in the home invasion. His sister, 24-year-old Tara Rai Baker, received six years of supervised probation for lying to police about the incident.

The final remaining defendant, Xavier Alfred Haywood, 28, who allegedly arranged the robbery and then harbored his co-defendants at a Superior hotel, is charged with a felony count of aiding an offender. He is scheduled to be back in court for on Sept. 17.