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20-year-old gets life sentence in murder of Duluth college student

Noah King looks to the courtroom gallery during his sentencing Thursday, Dec. 6, in Brainerd. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service

BRAINERD, Minn. — Noah Anthony Charles King was only 18 when he carried a wrench during what was expected to be a relatively easy theft of drugs and cash from William Grahek’s Duluth home on Feb. 14, 2017.

Regardless of his intent that day, King was legally responsible for aiding and abetting Grahek’s intentional murder. And, for that, he might never leave prison.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mark Munger on Thursday, Dec. 6, imposed a mandatory life sentence after finding King guilty of first-degree murder for his role in Grahek’s shooting death.

Now 20, King will only see the possibility of parole after 30 years behind bars.

“A life sentence at such a young age is something I can’t comprehend,” St. Louis County prosecutor Jessica Fralich told the court. “It is an extreme sentence, but this was an extreme crime.

“A person has the right to be safe in the comfort of their home. Home is supposed to be a sanctuary. When another person invades that sanctuary with weapons that are designed to kill, then the sentence that this court is obligated to impose fits the crime.”

King, the third defendant to be sentenced in connection with Grahek’s death, was the first to receive a life sentence. Alleged shooter Deandre Demetrius Davenport, 23, who is currently on trial, faces the same mandatory punishment if convicted.

Grahek, a 22-year-old University of Minnesota Duluth student and member of the Army Reserve, was shot twice, reportedly when he refused to turn over his supply of controlled substances and cash.

His mother, Heidi Grahek, fondly recalled her son, who she said had been accepted into the Army full time the same day he was killed.

“Children are not supposed to die before their parents, and especially not in such a violent and senseless way,” she said in a victim-impact statement.

The Grahek family has endured extreme tragedy, going from a family of four to two in less than a year. Will’s father, St. Paul police Sgt. Jon Grahek, died of cancer in January — just months after his initial diagnosis.

“He lost so much of his energy when he lost Will,” Heidi Grahek said, noting her husband had been given two to five years to live.

Munger said the impact of the crime on Grahek’s family, friends, the UMD community and the entire city could not be understood.

“Did he make mistakes? Absolutely,” the judge said. “He was not perfect. But he served his country, he had a beaming smile, he was helpful to his family and friends. Frankly, he was too trusting to be in the business he was in. He let in folks he never should’ve let in.”

Munger denied a defense motion to declare the state’s first-degree murder statute unconstitutional as it applies to King’s case.

Defense attorney Steve Bergeson said he has “nothing but sadness” for both the Grahek and King families. But he called the incident the result of “youthful, idiotic, brash, childish decisions,” saying his young client did not deserve the mandatory term.

“Mr. King faces a life sentence without there ever being a determination of his intent in that homicide,” Bergeson said.

King was charged under a felony murder statute that holds him equally liable for the crime as the person who pulled the trigger. Bergeson said other jurisdictions, including California, have abolished similar statutes.

“I know the court’s hands are tied,” he said. “I can only hope that someday, somebody will be looking back at this.”

For now, Munger advised King that he could potentially be released from prison by the time he is middle-aged.

“The future will show us what kind of man you’ll be,” the judge said. “It won’t show what kind of man Mr. Grahek could be.”

Asked if he had anything to say before receiving the life term, King simply replied, “Nope.”

The proceedings were held at the Crow Wing County Judicial Center, where Davenport’s trial began Tuesday. Munger previously granted a change of venue in his case. Opening statements and witness testimony are expected to begin next week, and the trial could continue into the first week of January.