WILLMAR, MINN. – The three teenagers accused of killing 79-year-old Lila Warwick appeared separately in court this week.
A Thursday morning probable cause hearing for Robert Warwick — the victim’s grandson and the alleged “mastermind” behind her slaying — was postponed until Sept. 9, at his lawyers’ request. A later hearing, to decide whether the 17-year-old Warwick will be tried as an adult, also was delayed.
Police and prosecutors allege that Robert Warwick hatched the plan that led to Brok Junkermeier’s attack on the elderly woman in her home outside Willmar. Early one morning in late July, Junkermeier slashed Lila Warwick’s hand with a swordlike knife and forced her to write him a check for $1,500 before choking and stabbing her to death, authorities say.
In the hallway before Warwick’s hearing, family members hugged and whispered hellos. Afterward, one young woman — Robbie’s cousin and Lila’s granddaughter — wept.
“This is an unimaginable tragedy for our family — all the more devastating because a family member was accused of this,” Cheri Ekbom, Lila Warwick’s daughter, said outside the Kandiyohi County Courthouse in Willmar. “I love my nephew. I’ve said all along, and it’s my firm belief, that I want justice to be served, and I still stand by that.”
During Thursday’s brief proceedings, Robert Warwick’s mother, Jennifer Warwick, sat beside her son, who was wearing a gold buttoned shirt, shorts and Nikes. Afterward, she rubbed his back and they hugged.
Junkermeier, 19, who is charged with intentional second-degree murder, was in court Tuesday for a short “initial appearance.” His omnibus hearing was set for Oct. 16.
“It’s a terrible situation,” Kent Marshall, Junkermeier’s public defender, said by phone. “You have the family grieving the loss of their loved one … also the three families who are in shock over what it is their sons have been accused of doing.
“It’s clear that it’s not going to play out well for anyone involved.”
The third defendant, Devon Jenkins, 16, accused of acting as the lookout, appeared in court Monday. A judge denied his parents’ request that he be released into their custody, according to the West Central Tribune. He and Warwick are being held at the Prairie Lakes Youth Programs in Willmar. Junkermeier is in Kandiyohi County jail, with bail set at $2 million.
Warwick has been charged as a juvenile with two counts of second-degree murder, intentional and unintentional. Jenkins is accused of the same counts and of having “aided, advised, hired, counseled or conspired” with the others.
Authorities found blood and bloodstained paper towels in Warwick’s rambler on Hwy. 12 on the east side of the city, according to search warrants filed in Kandiyohi County and requested by the Star Tribune.
In Junkermeier’s house, agents discovered savings bonds in Lila Warwick’s name, charred paper and a burned Social Security card. In his car, they found a black ski mask and six knives, a few of them pocketknives, an evidence receipt said. Also in Junkermeier’s car was a “small amount of marijuana,” a pipe and a container with white residue.
Ekbom told investigators that Robert Warwick was abusing drugs and his grandmother had been trying to get him help, the charges say.
Investigators are figuring out what Lila Warwick might have told others about those conversations with her family, Kandiyohi County Sheriff Daniel Hartog said Thursday.
Folks in Willmar have been less worried since “the persons responsible were caught,” Hartog said. But many still have questions, he added.
“How can a relative, a grandson, plan something like this and have their grandmother killed?” Hartog said. “A lot of: Why would you do that, or why would someone do that to their family member?”
Claudia Becerra and her 17-year-old daughter, Josephine Franco, attended Thursday’s hearing because they’ve known Robbie Warwick since he was in second grade.
Almost daily, they stopped by the grocery store where Warwick worked long hours, Becerra said. When they’d compliment his jacket or something else he was wearing, he’d almost always respond that it was a gift from his grandmother, she said. He spoke of her often.
“More so than anything, the thing we couldn’t wrap our minds around is how much he loved his grandma,” Becerra said. “There’s nothing she didn’t do for those kids.”