Robert Warwick’s attorney seeks change of venue for murder trial
WILLMAR — As he had previously indicated he would, the defense attorney for Robert Warwick has filed a motion seeking a change of venue, to move the teenager’s first-degree murder trial away from Kandiyohi County.
In a motion filed Friday, Warwick’s attorney Daniel Mohs noted that he will bring the motion at Wednesday’s pre-trial hearing before District Judge David Mennis in Kandiyohi County District Court.
Robert “Robbie” Warwick, 18, was indicted on two first-degree murder charges for his role in the July 29, 2013, killing of his grandmother, Lila Warwick, 79, at her home along the east edge of Willmar. He faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted and has been held on $2 million bail since the September grand jury indictment.
Warwick’s co-defendant, Brok Junkermeier, 19, was sentenced April 9 to life in prison without parole. Junkermeier changed his plea to guilty to first-degree premeditated murder on the 10th day of his jury trial in Kandiyohi County District Court. During his plea hearing, Junkermeier admitted that he stabbed and strangled Lila Warwick after months of planning with Robert Warwick.
The third teen charged in the case, Devon Jenkins, 16, of Willmar, pleaded guilty in December to aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Jenkins was sentenced to the Prairie Lakes Youth Program, will serve probation until his 21st birthday and must complete 100 hours of community service each year as part of his juvenile sentence.
Under extended juvenile jurisdiction, Jenkins’ adult sentence, of 15 years in prison, was stayed but could be executed if he fails to comply with the juvenile sentence requirements.
Mohs’ motion noted that his client cannot receive a fair trial due to significant prejudicial pretrial publicity, including more than two dozen articles in this newspaper. Many of the articles portray Warwick as “the mastermind” of the alleged conspiracy to kill the elder Warwick.
The term “mastermind” is a description used by authorities in the original criminal complaints in the case. The charging documents note that Junkermeier told investigators Warwick was the mastermind of the plan to kill his grandmother and steal a large sum of money in her possession.
In an omnibus order also issued Friday, Judge Mennis ruled that statements Robert Warwick made to investigators during the third and final portion of his interview cannot be introduced as evidence at trial.
According to statements given by state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents at the December omnibus hearing, Warwick’s interview began at his home, and was continued at the county Law Enforcement Center after he said he did not want to talk to officers with his mother present. The third portion came after agents told Warwick he was under arrest for murder and then stepped away from the interview room. The teen was not re-advised of his rights, including that his statements could be used against him, when agents returned to continue questioning him.
In the memorandum attached to the omnibus order, Mennis noted that Warwick was 17 years and 9 months old when he was interviewed about the killing, and that he had minimal prior contacts with law enforcement. The judge also noted that more than two hours had passed since Warwick had been fully advised of his rights at the beginning of his interview at his residence, and nearly an hour after the teen had received a “soft reminder” at the Law Enforcement Center.
“Give these circumstances, Warwick should have been advised of his constitutional rights before being questioned in the third interview because the situation had drastically changed by his arrest,” the judge wrote, noting that the court was not confident that Warwick was sufficiently aware of his rights when he gave the third statement to investigators.
Mennis also ruled that there was sufficient probable cause for the search warrant served on Warwick’s home and that the evidence gathered there can be used in the case.
Warwick is being prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s office, with Robert Plesha and Matthew Frank, assistant attorneys general, handling the case. The same attorneys prosecuted Junkermeier’s case.