Judge allows DNA tests in Duluth homicide case

Investigators can move ahead with DNA testing of potentially key evidence in the fatal shooting of a Duluth college student, a judge ruled Thursday. Sixth Judicial District Judge Mark Munger said the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crim...

Top row from left: Noah Duane Baker, Deandre Demetrius Davenport, Noah Anthony Charles King. Bottom row from left: Xavier Alfred Haywood, Tara Rai Baker

Investigators can move ahead with DNA testing of potentially key evidence in the fatal shooting of a Duluth college student, a judge ruled Thursday.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mark Munger said the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime lab can conduct forensic tests on five DNA swabs obtained from a handgun and ammunition recovered in the investigation of February's fatal shooting of 22-year-old William Andrew Grahek.

Munger overruled objections from attorneys for the five suspects charged in connection with Grahek's death, who took issue with the BCA's declaration that the tests are likely to consume the entirety of the samples - making it impossible for the defendants to request their own evaluations.

"While there is no dispute that the reliability of DNA testing is critical given the high stakes present in a murder prosecution, obtaining the most accurate results outweighs Defendants' interest in testing lower-quality samples separately," the judge wrote in a nine-page order.

The defense still will be allowed to find an independent expert to be present for testing of the evidence, as required by the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure.


William Grahek

 The objection was brought by attorneys for 21-year-old Deandre Demetrius Davenport, who is accused of shooting Grahek twice during an attempted armed robbery of cash and drugs at Grahek's East Hillside residence on Feb. 14.

Attorneys for four co-defendants - Noah Anthony Charles King, 18; Noah Duane Baker, 19; Tara Rai Baker, 22; and Xavier Alfred Haywood, 26 - also joined in the motion.

St. Louis County prosecutors Jessica Fralich and Vicky Wanta informed the court that there are five swabs at issue - two from live rounds and two from spent rounds found at the scene, as well as one sample from the trigger of the suspected murder weapon.

They said the 9mm Glock pistol was recovered from a person with "connections to Mr. Davenport and Mr. Davenport's family" during the execution of a search warrant at a residence in Austin, Minn., where the defendant previously lived.

BCA technicians were able to obtain the five samples but reported that they are "so small that they need to be consumed to get the most accurate result," according to documents filed by the prosecution.

Scott Belfry, a public defender for Davenport, argued at a March hearing that the planned tests amount to "unnecessary destruction of evidence," in violation of the defendants' constitutional rights.

He requested that the defense have access to half of each evidence sample in order to have an outside expert conduct tests.


"The Defendant's ability to conduct reasonable tests on DNA evidence is precluded if the State is allowed to consume the entire DNA sample," Belfry wrote in a brief. "The Rules of Criminal Procedure are designed to allow the defendant to exercise his right to due process and to confront the evidence against him in a reasonable and meaningful manner."

But Fralich and Wanta said the defense's motion posed an "unwarranted intrusion on the State's ability and right to conduct an investigation based on best practices." They said the defense had no legal standing to bring the request and asserted that the testing was being conducted in accordance with the law.

"The reliability of the DNA testing is just as critical to the State as it is to the individual Defendants," the prosecutors wrote. "Obtaining the most accurate result for the State and all of the Defendants must outweigh an individual Defendant's interest in preserving and testing a lower-quality sample."

In his order, Munger noted that judges in several cases across Minnesota have ruled on the relatively new issue of DNA consumption in recent years. He cited testimony from BCA scientists who reported that it is more difficult to establish a DNA profile when only a portion of a small sample is used, as compared to cases where the full swab is consumed.

"Consumption of the evidence would neither run afoul of Defendants' right to due process nor violate the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure," the judge wrote. "The State must be permitted to proceed with testing so long as it does so in strict contemplation of the law. The testing in this case is necessary, appropriate, and must be permitted to proceed."

Munger gave defense attorneys 14 days to identify an expert who will be allowed to be present for the BCA-conducted tests.

The cases remain in their early stages, with all five defendants due back in court on June 30.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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