Second life sentence handed down in Duluth murder case
Heidi Grahek visited a cemetery last week on the first anniversary of the death of her husband, St. Paul police Sgt. Jon Grahek.
She’ll be back next month on the second anniversary of the death of her son, 22-year-old University of Minnesota Duluth student William Grahek.
“These are not the anniversaries I ever thought I’d be observing,” she told a judge.
On Monday, the Grahek family saw a major step in a nearly two-year quest for justice for Will — the sentencing of the third and final man responsible for his death during an armed home invasion on Valentine’s Day 2017.
Deandre Demetrius Davenport, 23, received a mandatory life term with the possibility of parole only after 30 years. He was convicted by a Brainerd jury in late December on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of intentional second-degree murder.
“Mr. Davenport, in my mind, is clearly the person who pulled the trigger,” 6th Judicial District Judge Mark Munger told a crowded courtroom. “There is no doubt in my mind of that.”
Davenport joins Noah Anthony Charles King, 20, in receiving a life sentence. The other defendant, 21-year-old Noah Duane Baker, took a plea agreement that has him serving a 30-year term.
In a family that has endured immense tragedy in the past two years, Heidi Grahek disclosed that she also was diagnosed with cancer in October — months after losing her husband to the disease. She said she has already undergone one surgery, with another to come.
Kurt Errickson described the pain suffered by his sister and her other son, Devin Grahek, who lived with Will and was a witness to his death.
“Since Will’s death, and since Jon’s death, my sister and nephew have been practically paralyzed with grief,” he said.
Errickson described Will was “looking for a purpose in life,” having decided to turn his U.S. Army Reserve service into a career shortly before his death.
“Will was cheerful, outgoing, irrepressible,” Errickson said. “The kid had a zest for life. He lived with gusto.”
Davenport sat with his head to the ceiling, swiveling in his chair as he received his sentence. Against the advice of his attorney and his family, he delivered a statement proclaiming his innocence and repeatedly asserting that he had been treated unfairly.
“I didn’t have anything to do with the murder, so it’s hard to show emotions,” he told the judge.
Davenport said he felt he was never given an opportunity to tell his side of the story and felt compelled to speak before receiving the life term.
“I’m a victim in this crime, too,” he said. “My daughters are going to grow up without a father in their life.”
Defense attorney Kassius Benson said the conviction will be appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court. He asked Munger to decline to impose the mandatory life term, saying the facts of the case clearly constituted an unintentional murder.
“It’s absurd,” Benson said. “It’s legally absurd.”
Munger disagreed. He called the sentence “too little” and “not morally fair.”
“I wish I had the power to give you a more severe sentence than I gave to Mr. King,” he told Davenport.
Munger broke the case down into what he described as the “tragic interplay of six key events” that started with Grahek choosing to sell controlled substances and ended with the three men entering his East Hillside in an attempt to steal a safe containing the drugs and cash.
Addressing the Duluth police investigators in the courtroom, Munger said the case provided the “most exemplary example of law enforcement” he’s seen in his long career — but expressed hope that it was not simply the result of “who the victim’s father was.”
The judge, who retires Friday after 20 years on the bench, also turned his attention to Davenport’s girlfriend, 24-year-old Tara Rai Baker, who sat with his family in the courtroom. Munger last year sentenced her to six years of supervised probation for lying to police about the incident, sparing her a prison term.
“It makes me doubt the leniency I granted you,” Munger said of her continued involvement with Davenport. “I’m praying that you take a look at this again.”
Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jessica Fralich, who prosecuted the cases with co-counsel Vicky Wanta, said the Grahek family has been persistent throughout the court proceedings, being forced to “relive the worst day of their life over and over and over again.”
“Their collective life as a family has been upended,” Fralich told the judge. “While Deandre Davenport receives a life sentence, it’s really the Grahek family that will be living out that sentence every day. Their loved one will never come home. They will never talk to him again.”
One defendant still remains in the case: Xavier Alfred Haywood, 28, who allegedly planned the home invasion and then harbored his co-defendants at a Superior hotel. He has a trial scheduled for March.
But Monday’s proceedings seemed to close an important chapter in the case, bringing the finality of lengthy prison sentences for each of the three men directly involved in Grahek’s death.
“Our hope,” Fralich said, “is that the Grahek family will be able to use this to begin what they haven’t been able to do in the last two years — to grieve, to start to move on, to start to heal.”