The Duluth man accused of fatally assaulting a Park Point man in a January home invasion reversed course and pleaded guilty Thursday to one charge of unintentional second-degree murder.
Darrel Darryl Mayhew, 31, speaking under oath to prosecutors and Sixth District Judge Dale Harris, admitted to entering 70-year-old Larry Watczak’s home on Jan. 2 and striking him in the head with a bottle before leaving with Watczak’s cellphone, tablet computer and roughly $2 in cash.
Watczak was able to briefly speak with police that day before slipping into a coma and dying 10 days later.
Mayhew reached out to prosecutors about a plea agreement. He met with assistant St. Louis County attorneys Vicky Wanta and Chris Florey on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the matter. A jury trial had been scheduled to begin June 4.
Mayhew is representing himself in court after dismissing his public defender in April. Attorney Scott Belfry has been present in court in an advisory role.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, prosecutors are asking for a sentence of 240 months on the murder charge, which is higher than the state sentencing guidelines of 180 months, with discretion given for a range between 153 and 216 months.
Under state law, prosecutors can ask for the longer sentence because of an “aggravated factor” - that at the time of the attack Watczak was in his home, where he has an expectation of privacy.
Prosecutors agreed to drop charges of aggravated first-degree robbery and first-degree burglary under the plea agreement.
Florey previously told the judge that the prosecution had evidence that Mayhew was on Park Point six days before the attack, asking residents if he could shovel snow for money.
On Thursday, Florey asked Mayhew to review the events of Jan. 2.
Mayhew told the court that he had walked from his downtown Duluth apartment to Park Point to look for work that day. He visited an acquaintance there, who told him he didn’t have any work. As he walked back toward the Aerial Lift Bridge, Mayhew said he ended up at Watczak’s house in the 800 block of South Lake Avenue.
“I walked in,” Mayhew said. “I knocked on the door, but there was no answer, so I went in.”
Entering the house’s living room, Mayhew said he found Watczak sitting on the couch, watching television.
“What did you do when you saw Mr. Watczak on the couch?” Florey asked.
“I approached him and hit him on the head,” Mayhew said. When Florey asked what Mayhew used to hit Watczak, Mayhew replied: “A bottle.”
“Was it your intention to hit him?” Florey asked.
“I don’t know, it just happened,” Mayhew said.
Mayhew told the court that Watczak cried out in pain and that he then threw a blanket on Watczak’s head, asking “Where’s the money?”
Watczak remained on the couch, silent, Mayhew said, so Mayhew took Watczak’s phone, tablet and cash and left. He told the court he dropped a glove near the Lift Bridge, which later was found by police.
“Did you intend to kill Mr. Watczak?” Florey asked.
“No,” Mayhew replied, but he acknowledged that his actions led to Watczak’s brain hemorrhage, seizure and eventual death on Jan. 12.
Until Thursday, Mayhew contended that he had nothing to do with Watczak's death, though he previously had admitted he was walking on Park Point the day of the attack.
During previous hearings, Mayhew repeatedly called for the judge to dismiss the case, citing the fact that a grand jury declined to indict him on charges of first-degree murder while committing robbery and first-degree murder while committing burglary.
In turn, Harris repeatedly explained that the failure to indict does not prohibit prosecutors from moving forward on lesser charges, which do not require grand jury approval.
Sentencing has been scheduled for June 17. Harris told the court he’d reserve acceptance of Mayhew’s plea agreement until completion of a presentence investigation as required by law, though that investigation is not expected to change the agreement.