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Charges upheld against two in fatal shooting of Duluth college student

Tara Rai Baker Courtesy photo1 / 2
Xavier Alfred Haywood Courtesy photo2 / 2

DULUTH, Minn.—Two suspects accused of aiding in last year's fatal shooting of a Duluth college student during an alleged robbery can proceed to trial, a judge ruled.

In separate orders issued last week, 6th Judicial District Judge Mark Munger upheld felony charges against Tara Rai Baker and Xavier Alfred Haywood in the February 2017 death of 22-year-old William Grahek.

Baker, 23, allegedly served as the getaway driver for a trio of suspects who entered Grahek's home in an effort to steal drugs and cash. Haywood, 27, allegedly planned the robbery and harbored his co-defendants at a Superior hotel after it was botched.

Munger denied defense motions seeking dismissal of Baker's charges of aiding and abetting intentional second-degree murder and attempted first-degree aggravated robbery and Haywood's charge of aiding an offender to avoid arrest.

In both cases, the judge wrote, sufficient evidence has been produced by prosecutors to bring the defendants before a jury.

Authorities allege that Deandre Demetrius Davenport, 22, shot Grahek twice during the Feb. 14 incident at the victim's home, 510 E. 11th St. He was allegedly accompanied by 20-year-old Noah Duane Baker and 19-year-old Noah Anthony Charles King.

Tara Baker — the girlfriend of Davenport and sister of Noah Baker — was the first defendant to challenge her charges. Her attorneys argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegation that she transported her co-defendants to and from the scene — or that she even knew about the homicide until several hours after the fact.

But prosecutors have stated that Baker admitted to driving her 1999 Jeep Cherokee that afternoon. They alleged that she brought her boyfriend and brother to King's house — directly across an alley from Grahek's residence — a short time before the shooting, and then was seen speeding away through the Hillside area with all three onboard, moments after the shooting was reported.

Munger held that surveillance video, witness interviews and Tara Baker's own statements to police "present a reasonable probability" that she was indeed driving and knew of the plot to rob Grahek.

"Defendant Baker has stated that she is the only person who drives her Jeep and the State has relied on this statement in charging her," the judge wrote in his order. "Her accounts for why she was driving her Jeep by Mr. King's house before and after the homicide are inconsistent with the video footage of her vehicle in the area at the time."

Haywood, meanwhile, sought dismissal of his case at a November hearing — though his attorney did not submit any arguments in support of the motion.

Authorities said witnesses provided information that Haywood "knew the victim through the drug trade, and knew that the victim had drugs in a safe in his closet." They allege that he instructed Davenport, King and Noah Baker to rob Grahek.

Further, prosecutors said, Davenport spoke with Haywood over the phone while the suspects were fleeing the scene in Tara Baker's car. Haywood reportedly told them to "law low" and made arrangements for a hotel room in Superior.

Munger said the allegations against Haywood also were supported by witnesses who identified him through multiple aliases and a Snapchat account.

"Based on numerous witnesses' testimony, there is substantial evidence indicating that (Haywood) aided Mr. Davenport after the homicide," the judge wrote.

Tara Baker is scheduled to appear in court for a settlement conference on Feb. 9, while Haywood is set for the same on March 2. No trial dates have been scheduled.

Nearly a year after Grahek's death, it appears there is still a long road ahead in the case — particularly for Davenport, King and Noah Baker. All three were indicted by a grand jury in August on first-degree murder charges and face potential life sentences, if convicted.

Defense attorneys for all three have brought motions seeking dismissal of the charges on procedural grounds. In response, St. Louis County prosecutors Jessica Fralich and Vicky Wanta last month agreed to turn over the full transcript of the grand jury proceedings, saying they believe the issue raised by the defense to be a "curable defect."

With further briefs expected to be filed by attorneys, it likely will be several months before Munger rules on the dismissal motions. No future court dates have been scheduled for the three defendants.