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Haywood guilty of aiding Grahek's killers

Xavier Alfred Haywood

A Duluth man was found guilty Thursday night of aiding an offender as an accomplice after the fact in the February 2017 shooting death of University of Minnesota Duluth student William Grahek.

Xavier Alfred Haywood, 28, nodded his head and glanced toward jurors as Senior Judge Mark Munger read the verdict at 10 p.m. The panel of seven women and five men deliberated about three hours before reaching a consensus on the felony charge.

Haywood, wearing a gray suit and tie, was handcuffed and led from the courtroom as family members wept in the gallery behind him. Munger revoked his bail, denying him an opportunity to speak in favor of continued release.

A significant prison term is “almost a foregone conclusion at this point,” defense attorney Daniel Repka acknowledged. A sentencing date was not immediately scheduled.

The verdict marked a major milestone for the high-profile case that has lingered in the courts for more than two years. Haywood is the fifth and final defendant convicted in connection with Grahek’s death.

Role disputed

Haywood wasn’t physically present when Grahek was killed during an attempted robbery of drugs and cash from his East Hillside residence on Feb. 14, 2017, but his actions in the days afterward were the focus of three days of testimony.

“No one has an affirmative obligation to come forward with information when an investigation is going on,” St. Louis County prosecutor Vicky Wanta told jurors in her closing argument. “But you can’t lie. You can’t impede an investigation. You can’t destroy evidence. Mr. Haywood did all three.”

Repka said police and prosecutors got it wrong.

“How can I be so sure?” he asked the panel. “That’s what the evidence reflects. The evidence reflects that Mr. Haywood didn’t do any of those things. The evidence reflects that the state of Minnesota failed to meet its burden of proof in this case.”

Prosecutors said Haywood was the sole connection between Grahek and the three men convicted of his murder. And he played an active role in attempting to conceal the crime, Wanta told jurors.

She cited phone records that showed Haywood communicating with shooter Deandre Demetrius Davenport over the course of the day of the murder. He also searched for news on the shooting and accessed the St. Louis County Jail roster shortly after dropping off his co-defendants at the hotel he arranged.

“Mr. Haywood had more than enough reason to know what was going on,” Wanta said. “Even assuming he was not told, he had more than enough reason to know what these three had done.”

Haywood returned to the hotel again the next day, picking up Noah Baker and leaving for about an hour. Baker later told police that they went to retrieve clothing he hid in the Chester Bowl area and brought it to Morgan Park, where he burned the evidence — a story Wanta said was supported by cellphone tower records.

Repka, however, offered another explanation for Haywood’s actions.

He said his client got the room at the request of Davenport, who wanted to treat his girlfriend to a Valentine’s Day celebration but did not have a credit card to book the room. Baker, the defense attorney said, had a history of helping Haywood secure controlled substances.

“This wasn’t destruction of evidence,” Repka said of the Feb. 15 meet-up. “This was a drug deal.”

Haywood’s Feb. 21 interview with investigators was also the subject of dispute, with Wanta arguing that he offered a number of lies. Repka said his client may not have actively helped investigators “accelerate” the case but did attempt to truthfully answer their questions.

The defense further criticized the prosecution’s reliance on the testimony of Baker, who has frequently changed elements of his story in interviews with police and testimony in three trials.

“You can’t believe him,” Repka said. “You can’t believe anything the guy says. And that seems to be one of the key pieces of the state’s case.”

Munger instructed jurors that the crime of aiding an offender can be committed in any one of three ways: destroying or concealing evidence, providing false or misleading information to police or obstructing the investigation.

Jurors found Haywood guilty of all three elements.

Issues slow trial

The trial was nearly derailed earlier in the day as jurors heard audio of Haywood’s statement to investigators.

Prosecutors inadvertently played an unredacted version of the tape that included a comment not intended be heard by jurors in which Haywood makes an indirect reference to having been involved in illegal activity in the past. Repka then unintentionally played the offending clip again, as well as a portion of the interview that had not been offered or admitted into evidence.

After attorneys realized the errors, Repka moved for a mistrial on grounds that a reference to past criminal activity was “particularly problematic” because it could prejudice jurors in their consideration of Haywood’s legal responsibility in the current case.

An irate Munger denied the motion, but not before scolding attorneys on both sides — delivering a heated rebuke that he later apologized for. He said he viewed Haywood’s comment on the tape as “fairly innocuous” and not rising to the level of a mistrial.

The trial encountered another unusual obstacle in the afternoon, with lead prosecutor Jessica Fralich leaving to seek medical attention for an illness.

Munger declined to postpone closing arguments, saying he would not risk sending jurors home ahead of deliberations in a case stemming from what he described as Duluth’s most publicized crime in more than 20 years.

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