Friends still puzzle over Willmar teen's role in grandmother's murder

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 7, 2014 - 5:19 AM

Warwick says he didn’t expect plot to take grandmother’s life.

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Robert Warwick

– Shuffling into the courtroom, his ankles cuffed, Robert Inocencio Warwick looked taller and heavier than the teen who had been charged one year ago in his grandmother’s brutal slaying. By last week’s guilty plea, his voice had dropped deeper. His hair, which once swooped across his forehead, was closely cropped.

Family and friends who packed the Kandiyohi County courtroom for his sentencing stared at him, searching his face for the “Robbie” they had known.

His aunt, Cheri Ekbom, took the stand and asked what many wondered: Whatever happened to that “sweet young boy” who had called his grandmother, Lila Warwick, his hero? Why would he, as prosecutors have alleged, mastermind her murder?

Warwick, who turned 18 in jail, pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder for his role in Lila Warwick’s slaying last summer, admitting that he knew the plot to burglarize her house and steal her safe could leave her dead. So there will be no trial — and, for some family members, few answers.

But some of Robert Warwick’s friends need no more answers. They believe Robbie when he told the courtroom that he and Brok Junkermeier, the 19-year-old who stabbed and strangled Lila Warwick, had planned to rob his grandma, but not kill her.

“Brok told me it wouldn’t happen …” Warwick said. “But it happened.”

Robbie Warwick “wasn’t a mastermind, evil person,” Jesus Cisneros-Pizarro said Thursday, sitting at a picnic table while his buddies played basketball. “He was a good kid. He was a great friend.”

Cisneros-Pizarro and Warwick were tight. They’d play “Call of Duty” for hours, shoot hoops at the court near Robbie’s house, build forts in the woods.

Cisneros-Pizarro was at Robbie Warwick’s house on the rainy day when the cops came. They wanted to wait, they said, for Robbie’s mother, Jenny, before breaking the news: Lila Warwick had been found dead.

“He comes downstairs, crying,” Cisneros-Pizarro said. “He says to me, the police are here. It’s really bad. Stay down here.”

When Robbie returned to the basement, maybe an hour later, he was still sobbing. Cisneros-Pizarro walked home.

The next day was Cisneros-Pizarro’s birthday, and Robbie joined the crew at Buffalo Wild Wings in St. Cloud to celebrate. Then he was gone, arrested.

Cisneros-Pizarro heard the rumors, of course. He also knew that things between Robbie and his grandmother had been “rocky.”

Growing up, Lila Warwick was “a big influence” on Robbie, he said, partly because her son — Robbie’s father, Kent Warwick — wasn’t around.

Robbie had lived with his grandmother for a short time. She was best friends with Robbie’s younger sister. She drove the kids to practices.

But there was tension between Lila and Robbie’s mother, Jenny Warwick, who divorced Kent Warwick in 2001. One family member testified during Junkermeier’s trial that Lila kept a tab of the things she bought for the kids. Lila avoided talking to Jenny, which bothered Robbie, Cisneros-Pizarro said.

Still, he had never heard of a plot to rob Lila Warwick, he said. He couldn’t imagine Robbie intending to hurt her.

“Honestly, I never even saw it coming. Never,” Cisneros-Pizarro said. “I knew he didn’t like his grandmother. But things stay at that. I don’t know people who escalate things. If they do, it’s because they hate them or something.

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