Teen gets life for murder, says victim led him to God
WILLMAR, Minn. — A Willmar teen sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for killing an elderly woman last summer told the court that he had found God in jail.
Brok Junkermeier, 19, read his own statement before Judge Donald Spilseth handed down the state-mandated guideline sentence for first-degree premeditated murder. Junkermeier said he realized that the last words of his victim, Lila Warwick, that she could help him, that God could help him, were true.
“If I had listened to her kind words, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” Junkermeier said to the hushed courtroom. “I regret not using his (God’s) help when she offered it.”
Warwick, 79, was found strangled and stabbed July 29 in her rural Willmar home.
Both Junkermeier and Cheri Ekbom, Lila Warwick’s daughter, referenced Junkermeier’s recorded interview, played last week for the jury trial before the teen changed his plea to guilty on April 2. Both noted that, in the interview, a boastful Junkermeier told investigators that he mocked Warwick’s offer of help, and then Junkermeier said that God couldn’t help him.
“That’s a lie,” Ekbom said in her statement to the court. “Despite evil, God does care about you and God can help you. His name is Jesus.”
Ekbom called her mother’s last 60 minutes on Earth a “pit stop in hell” because her final suffering at Junkermeier’s hand was brief compared to eternity. “You couldn’t ever end the life of her soul,” Ekbom said. “My mom is in her eternal home in heaven.”
Lila Warwick’s life was mostly behind her, Ekbom noted. While her family grieves for their mother and grandmother and her church family has lost a treasure, the loss of the three young men’s lives involved in the murder is more significant and tragic, she said.
“I am grateful, my mom had 79 years of a full life,” Ekbom said after the hearing. She said Junkermeier’s statements in court did not shock her. “I was glad to see what appeared to be sincere remorse from him.”
Lila Warwick’s granddaughters, Molly and Katie Ekbom, both gave statements that they will live their lives more intentionally to honor their grandmother.
“Even though her physical body has been taken. I can still feel her presence with me,” Molly said. “Now I have more desire to succeed because of her.”
Angry and frustrated is not how her grandmother would want her to live, Katie said. “He (Junkermeier) has already taken her life,” she said. “He’s not going to take mine.”
Cheri Ekbom expressed empathy for Junkermeier, noting that there is more to his story than was presented in the courtroom and alluding to the young man’s mental evaluation, which was mentioned by his defense attorney last week.
“I sense that there is more to his story,” she said. “It appears to me that society has used Brok Junkermeier, chewed on him, gnawed at him and spit him out. It appears that he has been a victim, but empathy doesn’t excuse his actions.”
“I am sorry,” Junkermeier said at the end of his statement. “And I know that sorry doesn’t help. I pray for forgiveness and I’m ready to accept my punishment.”
Both the prosecuting and defense attorneys praised Warwick’s family for their strength and courage, and Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank also thanked the people of Kandiyohi County and law enforcement for their efforts in investigating the case.
“I have respect for the strength and courage and compassion the family has,” Frank said. “That speaks to the person that Lila was.”
Defense attorney Kent Marshall noted that it was incredible that the Warwick family has shown such grace. “Never in my 35-year career have I witnessed the grace and generosity of Lila Warwick’s family,” he said.
Frank also alluded to the future, which could include another murder trial for the Warwick family, that of 18-year-old grandson Robert Warwick, who allegedly planned his grandmother’s murder with Junkermeier months in advance. Before he killed her, Junkermeier made Lila Warwick write him a check for $1,500 and both young men went back to her home later to steal a safe containing 30 certificates of deposit.
“The family has one more trial, we ask them to be strong, they will have to be,” Frank said.
Robert Warwick and Junkermeier were both indicted on first-degree murder charges in September. Lila Warwick was found dead in the basement of her home after she failed to arrive at a church meeting and a friend called the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office to check on her.
Spilseth also ordered Junkermeier to pay restitution, jointly with co-defendants, with the amount reserved for 30 days so that final figures can be determined. Marshall said he would agree to the final amount and releasing the funds found on Junkermeier at his arrest and in his bank account to pay the restitution.
Robert Warwick also faces the possibility of life in prison and was commuted to adult court with the indictment. He is held on $2 million bail in the Kandiyohi County Jail. His next court hearing is April 23.
After the hearing, Cheri Ekbom declined to comment on her nephew’s case.
Warwick’s attorney, Daniel Mohs, has said in court that he intends to file a motion for a change of venue to move his client’s trial away from Willmar. Frank and Robert Plesha, both assistant attorneys general, are also prosecuting Warwick’s case.
The third teen charged in the case, Devon Jenkins, 16, of Willmar, pleaded guilty in December to aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Jenkins was sentenced to the Prairie Lakes Youth Program, will serve probation until his 21st birthday and must complete 100 hours of community service each year as part of his juvenile sentence.
Under the extended juvenile jurisdiction program, Jenkins’ adult sentence, of 15 years in prison, was stayed but could be executed if he fails to comply with the juvenile sentence requirements.