Grandson sentenced to life in prison after guilty plea in Willmar killing

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 3, 2014 - 5:41 AM

Willmar teen asks for forgiveness, while victim’s daughter asks: “Why?”

– A Willmar teenager was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison for his role in his grandmother’s murder, wrapping up what one family member called “the final chapter in a sad, sad story.”

Robert Inocencio Warwick, 18, pleaded guilty in Kandiyohi County District Court to first-degree murder while committing a felony, the burglary of his grandmother’s home. Another count that carries a tougher penalty — first-degree, premeditated murder — was dismissed.

District Judge David Mennis sentenced Warwick to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

The sentence comes nearly a year after a friend of the teen stabbed and strangled Lila Warwick, 79, whom family and neighbors remember as a doting grandmother and devoted church volunteer.

Robert Warwick apologized Wednesday to his family members, several of whom wept in the courtroom.

“I hope one day everyone will forgive me,” he said. “I want to say sorry to my grandma, who’s watching over me every day of my life.”

Cheri Ekbom, Lila Warwick’s daughter and Robert Warwick’s aunt, took the witness stand to face the third teen charged in her mother’s murder and to give her third victim impact statement.

“But regrettably, today is different,” she said. “Unlike the others, I do not look into the eyes of a stranger, but that of family. My nephew, Robbie Warwick.”

There are still “unanswered questions,” she said. “Really, just one: Why?” Ekbom asked, staring at her nephew, who wiped tears away with the sleeve of his orange sweatshirt.

In the year since Lila Warwick was left handcuffed and bleeding in the basement of her rambler on the east edge of Willmar, three teens have pleaded guilty in the crime.

Brok Junkermeier, 20, who strangled and repeatedly stabbed Lila Warwick, pleaded guilty in April to first-degree, premeditated murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Devon Jenkins, the 16-year-old who acted as the lookout, pleaded guilty in December to aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

Supreme Court uncertainty

Because Robert Warwick was 17 years old at the time of his grandmother’s slaying, his sentence had he been convicted of first-degree, premeditated murder would have been uncertain, prosecutors said Wednesday.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller vs. Alabama — a case involving a 14-year-old boy — that sentencing juveniles to spend life in prison without considering factors like their youth, motive and potential for rehabilitation violated the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

“Because of that, there is some uncertainty about the penalty,” said Matthew Frank, assistant attorney general, in explaining the plea deal.

Since the beginning, prosecutors have said that Robert Warwick hatched the plan to rob and murder his grandmother, giving Junkermeier information about her house and habits — including what time she awoke and where she hid a spare key.

During his trial, Junkermeier testified that he and Warwick had been planning the early-morning ambush robbery and attack for months.

But on Wednesday, Warwick said the pair had been planning a burglary — but not a murder — for only a month. During questioning by his attorney, Daniel Mohs, Warwick admitted that he knew Junkermeier would bring a large knife to his grandmother’s house “to intimidate her.”

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  • At the Kandiyohi Courthouse where Robert Warwick pleaded guilty to kil...

  • Robert I. Warwick, taken from the Willmar High School 2011-2012 Yearbook.

  • Lila Warwick

  • Cheri Ekbom, center, was upset that her nephew Robert Warwick did not take responsibility for planning Lila Warwick’s murder.

  • Warwick attorney Daniel Mohs said murder was never the plan.

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