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Murder trial begins: Five jurors seated in first day of jury selection

WILLMAR — Five jurors were seated Tuesday in the first day of the first-degree murder trial of Brok Junkermeier.

Junkermeier, 19, of Willmar, is accused in the strangulation and stabbing death of Lila Warwick, 79, at her home just outside Willmar. Lila Warwick’s body was found in the basement of her home the afternoon of July 29, 2013.

Junkermeier was one of three young men accused in Warwick’s death. Robert Warwick, 18, Lila Warwick’s grandson, is awaiting trial for first-degree murder in connection with her death.

Both young men have been in the Kandiyohi County Jail on $2 million bail since last year.

Devon Jenkins, 16, pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge of aiding and abetting second-degree murder. He is serving a sentence at Prairie Lakes Youth Detention Center in Willmar.

A total of 18 potential jurors were interviewed Tuesday. Twelve of them were excused from jury duty for a variety of reasons, and one of the 18 will be interviewed further this morning.

Jury selection resumes at 9 a.m. today on the second floor of the Kandiyohi County Courthouse in Willmar.

During jury selection, Junkermeier sat quietly at the defense table, sometimes conferring with defense attorney Kent Marshall. At a pre-trial hearing on Monday, he had been dressed in a jail jumpsuit. Tuesday, he was wearing a brown sport coat, khaki slacks and a blue shirt and tie.

Jurors chosen to serve on the jury included a male teacher, a male employee of a provider of personal care and other support services, a man and a woman who work in retail sales, and a man who is a truck driver.

Jurors were interviewed individually about their knowledge of the case, which drew extensive local and statewide attention last summer. Judge Donald Spilseth and prosecution and defense attorneys used information from questionnaires jurors had filled out last month in their questioning.

Most potential jurors said they had heard or read about it. Some said they could put that aside and focus on the evidence presented in the courtroom. Others said they could not.

Spilseth excused some potential jurors within minutes, because they said they had strong feelings about the case and would be a biased jury member.

Jurors were excused for other reasons. A rural Paynesville woman who is a dairy farmer said she couldn’t afford to be gone from her home for the estimated two weeks of trial testimony. The woman said she had to get up at 3:30 a.m. to milk her cows so she could get to the courthouse by 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

Also excused was a woman who said she had an anxiety disorder and said it was possible it could become an issue during the trial. A man with attention deficit disorder was excused after he said he did not take his medication regularly and might not be able to follow testimony. He also had attended church with Lila Warwick.

One woman was excused because she is on probation for a felony conviction. Another potential juror said she had completed probation several years ago for a felony conviction but did not know whether her voting rights had been restored. Spilseth said he wanted to learn more before proceeding with her interview, so she will return today.

A few jurors were also excused by Marshall using peremptory challenges. In a peremptory challenge, the attorney does not have to give a reason for dismissing the juror.

Court records have alleged that Robert Warwick and Junkermeier planned the attack on Lila Warwick in order to steal money that Robert Warwick believed she kept in her home. Jenkins admitted in court that he went to Lila Warwick’s home with Junkermeier the morning of July 29, but he said at his plea hearing that he waited for Junkermeier in the car and never went inside the house.

Junkermeier allegedly forced Lila Warwick to write him a check for $1,500 after cutting her hand. According to court records, authorities believe he then tried to strangle her and ultimately stabbed her several times, leaving her body in the basement of her home. Junkermeier and Robert Warwick allegedly returned to the grandmother’s home during the day to look for the money they believed was there and allegedly stole a small safe.

The two were indicted on first-degree murder charges by a grand jury last fall.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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