WILLMAR – Prosecutors began the trial of Brok Junkermeier, the 19-year-old charged with murdering his friend’s grandmother, Lila Warwick, with a graphic description of the 79-year-old’s death.
Matthew Frank, assistant attorney general, told jurors Friday that Junkermeier, wearing a black hoodie and ski mask, allegedly choked Warwick for 15 to 20 minutes. Frank said Junkermeier tried to break her neck, “but she was still breathing.” So he then allegedly grabbed his knife and stabbed her several times, Frank said.
“He then took his mask off, because he was hot as hell.”
Junkermeier has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges for carrying out the July ambush robbery and attack prosecutors say he planned with Warwick’s grandson, Robert Inocencio Warwick, 18.
In a three-minute opening statement, Junkermeier’s attorney Kent Marshall said that Junkermeier killed Lila Warwick: “Of that there will be no doubt.”
But he argued that doesn’t mean that Junkermeier is guilty of the two charges — first-degree, premeditated murder and first-degree murder in the course of a burglary. The two charges are “very different in a lot of respects,” Marshall said later outside the Kandiyohi County Courthouse. He declined to elaborate.
Junkermeier, wearing a tan suitcoat, black tie and glasses, sat quietly in the Kandiyohi County Courthouse, occasionally conferring with Marshall and watching as the prosecution flipped through photographs of the crime scene — Lila Warwick’s rambler on the east edge of Willmar.
Junkermeier and Robert Warwick, who was 17 at the time, “believed there was a lot of money” in Lila Warwick’s safe, according to a March memo from prosecutors. Warwick allegedly told Junkermeier about his grandmother’s house and habits, including where she hid a spare key.
Frank told the jurors Friday that in addition to physical evidence, including Lila Warwick’s blood allegedly found on Junkermeier’s Nikes, they would soon see a four-hour, videotaped interview of Junkermeier describing the crime and telling investigators, “I killed Lila Warwick.”
Prosecutors said Junkermeier had gone to Lila Warwick’s house intending to rob her twice before the morning of her slaying. The first time, Robert Warwick and another teen allegedly accompanied him, rifling through the belongings in Lila Warwick’s car.
A noise scared them off, Frank said. The next time, a solo Junkermeier saw a light on, so he left.
Robert Warwick’s 14-year-old sister, Reanne, testified that her grandmother had been worried about somebody having been in her garage. The glove compartment and car door were left open, but nothing was missing.
“Did she mention anybody’s name to ask to see if they had done it?” asked Robert Plesha, assistant attorney general.
“Yes, she thought it would be my brother,” Reanne Warwick said.
While “Robbie” had recently grown distant from his grandmother, Lila and Reanne were “best friends,” family members testified. Lila cheered her on in gymnastics meets and drove her to vacation Bible school. Reanne slept at her house five nights a week, she said.
Family members in the courtroom Friday — including Reanne and Robbie’s mother Jennifer Warwick — teared up and passed tissues as Reanne talked about seeing her grandma the Sunday evening before her death.
“I wanted to show her my gymnastic moves,” Reanne said, so they stopped at the park on the way home from church.
“Was that the last time you saw her?” Plesha asked.
“Yeah,” Reanne said. Then she threw her head down, her dark hair shielding her face as she cried.
Fellow churchgoers testified Monday that Lila Warwick was a dedicated volunteer whose absence at a church dinner the night of her death was noticed. Longtime friend and church secretary Lori Schroeder said she had called Warwick’s home phone Monday morning to check on organizing the baked goods for an upcoming funeral.
When Lila didn’t answer, “I didn’t think much of it,” Schroeder said. “She usually wasn’t home. She was very active.”
But when she missed volunteering at the dinner that night, Schroeder started to worry. After trying her cellphone — which she always had “right next to her in case her grandkids called” — and stopping by her house, Schroeder called 911.
Deputies found blood in the garage and the kitchen before discovering Lila Warwick’s body downstairs. Jurors saw photographs Friday of her lying dead on the basement floor, blood coming from her mouth and pooling around her handcuffed hand.