Pleads guilty: Junkermeier ends proceedings midway with surprise decision
WILLMAR –– The murder trial of Brok Junkermeier took an unexpected turn Wednesday when the 19-year-old surprised even his own defense attorney and pleaded guilty to first-degree premeditated murder.
In a clear, strong voice that momentarily wavered, Junkermeier told the court from the witness stand that he killed 79-year-old Lila Warwick on July 29, 2013, at her home on the edge of Willmar after months of planning the act with Warwick’s 18-year-old grandson, Robert “Robbie” Warwick.
Junkermeier said he was guilty of the crime and he wanted to enter a guilty plea to prevent “the families from listening to more of the evidence.”
His plea brought a halt to the trial, which was in its seventh day at the Kandiyohi County Courthouse.
The plea also means Junkermeier, of Willmar, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Another first-degree murder charge, which carries a sentence allowing the possibility of parole at the end of 30 years, was dismissed.
Robbie Warwick, of Willmar, also was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder. No trial date has been set for him. Devon Jenkins, 16, of Willmar, has already been sentenced as a juvenile for aiding and abetting second-degree murder. He was in the car when Junkermeier was in Lila Warwick’s house.
Family members of Lila Warwick, who were in the courtroom every day, leaned forward and watched silently as Junkermeier entered his plea Wednesday.
They declined to make a public comment to the press, but they will have an opportunity to speak during victim-impact statements that will be heard when Junkermeier is sentenced at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
In a brief interview, defense attorney Kent Marshall said when he arrived at court Wednesday morning he was informed his client wanted to talk to him.
That’s when Junkermeier told his attorney he wanted to plead guilty.
“This came as a complete shock to everyone,” said Marshall.
Even to him.
“I had planned to see this trial through,” said Marshall.
“When I got here this morning, Brok informed me he’d made a decision that he didn’t want the family to have to sit through any more of this, that he’d made a decision to plead guilty,” said Marshall.
The trial was allowed to proceed in the morning, however, to give Junkermeier more time to consider his decision, said Marshall.
“I’ve believed from the beginning of this case that Brok lacks some culpability to the premeditation,” said Marshall in an interview.
Marshall said Junkermeier had been picked on and bullied in grade school and “this was the first time in Brok’s life people where were paying attention to him and I think that he was, to some degree or another, playing the big shot. And he agreed with what they were asking him to do.”
After meeting again over the lunch hour, Marshall said a “very distraught” Junkermeier confirmed his decision.
“He’s an adult and he knows the implications of what he did, both in terms of the act that he committed and in tendering his guilty plea,” said Marshall in the interview.
Matthew Frank and Robert Plesha, attorneys from the State Attorney General’s Office who were prosecuting the case, were not available for comment.
The state had been presenting its evidence against Junkermeier, including a nearly four-hour videotaped interview during which Junkermeier admitted killing Warwick and provided multiple details about how he did it.
Junkermeier led investigators to a site northwest of Willmar where he had thrown the murder weapon – a hefty dagger that jurors saw on Wednesday morning.
Photos of Warwick’s safe and its contents, including her baptismal certificate and high school diploma that had been partially burned, were also shown on Wednesday morning as investigators testified that they had found the items at Junkermeier’s home.
Earlier this week, two of Junkermeier’s friends provided information about the murder and more young men had arrived at the courthouse Wednesday to testify in the afternoon.
But when the noon lunch break was extended and court did not resume at 1:15 as scheduled, it was obvious something was happening.
When Junkermeier entered the courtroom, he did not take his seat but instead walked quickly with all the attorneys into the chambers of District Court Judge Donald Spilseth.
When the group returned to the courtroom and Spilseth took his seat, he announced that there was “major news” and that Junkermeier had chosen to enter a guilty plea.
In a series of questions from Marshall and Spilseth to determine if Junkermeier sincerely wanted to plead guilty and if he understood the consequences of his decision, Junkermeier answered “yes sir,” “no sir” or “I understand.”
Marshall reminded Junkermeier that they had discussed using a mental illness defense.
“I believed that was something we should explore,” Marshall said – looking directly at Junkermeier. He said evaluations by a trained professional had found Junkermeier to have Asperger’s, an autism spectrum disorder; a mood disorder; personality disorders and anti-social behaviors.
In response to questions from Marshall and Spilseth, Junkermeier said he and Robbie Warwick began talking in December of 2012, and they had spoken on multiple occasions about plans to rob and kill Lila Warwick.
There were three attempts to commit the crime with the final attempt made last summer.
When Marshall asked Junkermeier if he understood he would spend the rest of his life in prison, he responded simply, “I do.”
After the jury was brought back into the courtroom and informed of the plea, Spilseth told the jurors that “the trial has now ended” and thanked them for their service.
Before his client was handcuffed and taken away by deputies, Marshall put his hands on Junkermeier’s shoulders.
Marshall said he told him: “Brok, you’ve done a horrible thing. But that doesn’t mean that you’re a horrible person. There’re good parts to you and I hope you find a way to use those good parts once you get to where you’re going.”
Marshall added, “Right now I don’t know that he knows that there’s a good part that exists in him.”