WILLMAR, Minn. – In the moments before Brok Junkermeier murdered his friend’s grandmother, the 79-year-old woman offered him support. Lila Warwick told him that she could help him — that God would help him. On Wednesday, Junkermeier, 19, told a crowded, teary courtroom here that he regrets not accepting.
“If I had listened to her kind voice and loving words, I would not be sitting before you today,” he said.
A week after Junkermeier abruptly pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the midst of his trial in Kandiyohi County District Court, Judge Donald Spilseth sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Junkermeier apologized Wednesday for carrying out the July ambush robbery and attack while members of two families — Warwick’s and his own — quietly cried.
It was a wrenching ending to a case marked by Junkermeier’s dispassionate description, in a videotaped interview with investigators, of how he strangled and repeatedly stabbed Warwick after forcing her to write him a check for $1,500. The trial, cut short after four days of testimony, could preview the prosecution of Warwick’s own grandson Robert Warwick, 18, whom prosecutors have called the crime’s “mastermind.”
In a trio of victim impact statements, Lila Warwick’s daughter and two of her granddaughters offered Junkermeier empathy and pledged to “be the light in this dark world.”
“Despite every graphic and appalling word I’ve heard and witnessed, I do not hate,” said Cheri Ekbom, Lila Warwick’s daughter and Robert Warwick’s aunt, who took the stand so she could look Junkermeier in the eye. “Returning hatred for hatred and evil for evil: She would not, nor will I. In this, I will honor her.”
Attorneys on both sides praised the family for their approach — despite gruesome evidence and testimony about Junkermeier killing the petite great-grandmother, remembered by family members and fellow churchgoers as a devoted Christian.
“I have never, in my 35-year career, witnessed the grace and generosity that’s been shown here,” said Kent Marshall, Junkermeier’s attorney. “It’s unbelievable. It’s commendable. And it’s not something I would have within me.”
It was the second punishment for a crime that prosecutors say involved three teenagers. Devon Jenkins, the 16-year-old who acted as the lookout, was sentenced as a juvenile in January for aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Junkermeier testified last week that he and “Robbie” Warwick, who faces a pair of first-degree murder charges, planned the robbery and murder for months. Warwick’s next court hearing is April 23.
“The family has one more trial; we ask them to remain strong,” said Matthew Frank, assistant attorney general. “They will have to be.”
Early on a morning in late July, Junkermeier sneaked into Lila Warwick’s garage with a 20-inch, curved dagger, waiting hours for her to enter.
Two days after deputies found her bloodied body on the basement floor, Junkermeier admitted to the crime, demonstrating on his own body where he stabbed Warwick “six, seven times” after choking her and breaking her neck.
Junkermeier told the courtroom Wednesday that he wishes he “could go back and talk to that boy you all saw on that screen,” urging him to realize the consequences. “I am so sorry,” he said, after removing his glasses to wipe away tears. “If I could trade my life for hers, I would.”
His father, Bradley Junkermeier, an attorney, had sat stoically in the back of the courtroom for hearings and the trial, taking notes on a yellow legal pad. On Wednesday morning, as his son spoke, he cried.
In his questioning last week, Marshall noted that a psychologist who evaluated Junkermeier “found a number of mental disorders,” including autism, Asperger’s syndrome and anti-social behaviors. He also said that Junkermeier had been bullied in school.
“The truth is that no normal, healthy human being can do what he did,” Marshall said after court. “So when you take all the things that were going on in Brok’s life in concert, certainly they contributed to his ability to commit an act that he never would have believed himself able to do.”
After the sentencing, Ekbom, of Brooklyn Park, said her mother lived a “full and blessed life.” So “it’s more of a tragedy for me to consider the life Brok Junkermeier and those involved had ahead of them,” she said. “They lost their lives. … His family has lost their son and grandson.”
Her daughter, Katie Ekbom, 22, said that at first she was furious over the manner of her grandmother’s death.
“But then it hit me,” she said. “Is this how my grandma would want me to live?”
So instead, she said, she’s decided to be thankful, both for the 21 years she had with her grandmother and the six months her son had with his great-grandmother.
After reading her statement, Katie Ekbom approached Junkermeier’s father and handed him a tan book. It was a devotional, she said later, recommended by her pastor. Inside, she quoted an inscription Lila Warwick had left her family in a keepsake booklet.
“Honestly, his family is suffering,” she said. “I just had to reach out.” Plus, she added, it’s something her grandmother would have wanted her to do.