Junkermeier lawyer says client caused Lila Warwick's death, but that doesn't mean guilty of charges
WILLMAR — Even his own attorney said in court Friday morning that Brok Junkermeier killed Lila Warwick the morning of July 29, 2013.
However, “that doesn’t mean he’s guilty of both of these charges,” Kent Marshall, a state public defender, told the jury in a brief opening statement in the first-degree murder trial of Junkermeier, 19, of Willmar.
Junkermeier faces two counts of first-degree murder in the death of Lila Warwick, 79, of Willmar. Junkermeier was indicted last fall on one count of premeditated first-degree murder and one count of intentional first-degree murder during the commission of a felony. He has been in custody since last summer in the Kandiyohi County Jail on $2 million bail.
“This isn’t a whodunit case,” Marshall said. “Brok Junkermeier caused the death of Lila Warwick, of that there will be no doubt.”
Marshall asked jurors to keep an open mind throughout the trial.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank presented an opening statement outlining the evidence and began calling witnesses on the fourth day of the trial in the Kandiyohi County Courthouse in Willmar. Eighth District Judge Donald Spilseth is presiding over the trial.
Frank said there was “considerable” evidence that Junkermeier and Lila Warwick’s grandson Robert Warwick, 18, of Willmar, started planning the murder in December 2012.
Frank told the jurors they would hear a description of the crime from Junkermeier himself in a video of his Aug. 1, 2013, interview with law enforcement. “In that interview, he said, and I quote, ‘I killed Lila Warwick,’” Frank said.
Frank described Lila Warwick’s death in chilling detail, from Junkermeier’s arrival at Lila Warwick’s home with friend Devon Jenkins in the early hours of July 29 to the 20 minutes he allegedly spent trying to strangle her in her basement before he stabbed her.
Jenkins, 16, of Willmar, has already been sentenced as a juvenile for aiding and abetting second-degree murder. He is serving a sentence at the Prairie Lakes juvenile detention center.
Frank’s first witness was Cheri Ekbom of Minneapolis, Lila Warwick’s daughter.
Ekbom said she was very close to her mother, speaking on the phone every two or three days. Lila Warwick was close to her grandchildren, especially those who lived in Willmar, Ekbom said. Because her brother’s ex-wife was a single mother, Lila Warwick would often help out, Ekbom explained.
When daughter-in-law Jennifer Warwick — Robert’s mother — worked nights, granddaughter Reanne would spend nights with her grandmother, Ekbom said. She described the grandchild and grandmother as best friends.
Ekbom said Robert and Lila had been close when he was younger but the relationship had soured. He had learned his grandmother kept a list of things she did for her daughter-in-law, and he was said to be angry, she said.
When the family gathered at Jennifer Warwick’s home after learning of Lila Warwick’s death, Robert Warwick stayed in his bedroom and did not join the family, Ekbom said.
Two people who went to church with Lila Warwick told of seeing her the day before the murder, a Sunday, when she had no bruises on her face or neck. Jeffrey Pitt and Lori Schroeder said Warwick was helping with Vacation Bible School at her church and was scheduled to be back the next day to help again.
A tearful Reanne Warwick testified she was supposed to see her grandmother at Vacation Bible School that day. She said she called the landline and cell phone repeatedly that day and left messages.
When Lila Warwick didn’t come to the church and couldn’t be reached, Schroeder said she went to the Warwick home to try to find her. Because she could see the car in the garage but got no answer at the door, she said, she called law enforcement for help.
Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Cpl. Jason Keith testified that he and other deputies arrived at the Lila Warwick home at 5:30 p.m. July 29 for a welfare check. That type of call is often uneventful, he said.
When they could not find a way into the house, they tried calling relatives. They eventually spoke with Robert Warwick, who gave them the keypad code.
As soon as they entered the garage, they saw blood drops on the floor, Keith said. Because he had been an emergency medical technician for nine years, he said, he believed the blood was likely from a significant injury.
Deputies followed the blood drops into the home’s kitchen and looked through the house for an injured person, he said. They also asked dispatchers to contact Rice Hospital, to find out if Lila Warwick had been in the emergency department that day.
Finding no one on the main floor of the rambler, Keith said, he went to the basement, where he saw Lila Warwick’s bloodied body on the floor.
Keith said he notified supervisors, and the deputies “secured and cleared” the house to be sure no one else was inside.
Marshall did not cross-examine any of the witnesses who testified Friday. After court, he told reporters that he would not talk about his trial strategy.
However, the issue is not whether Lila Warwick was murdered but what happened in the weeks and months leading up to that crime, he said.
Marshall said he did not know yet if Junkermeier would testify in person, but “he’s going to take the stand” through the video statement to law enforcement.