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Accused getaway driver in killing of Duluth college student wants charges dropped

Tara Rai Baker submitted photo

DULUTH, Minn.—The woman accused of serving as the getaway driver for a trio of suspects in the death of a Duluth college student was "adamant" that she was the person behind the wheel immediately before and after the shooting, said prosecutors in a brief filed this week.

That contradicts arguments from defense attorneys who are seeking dismissal of the charges against of 23-year-old Tara Rai Baker.

"Ms. Baker argues that the State cannot prove her involvement before William Grahek was shot, and she consistently keeps the focus only on her actions after the shooting," assistant St. Louis County attorneys Vicky Wanta and Jessica Fralich wrote.

"What she overlooks is that, by her own admission, she puts herself in the driver's seat of the Jeep immediately before and after William Grahek was shot."

Baker's attorneys argued in a motion last month that there is insufficient evidence to prove that she was driving her Jeep, which was seen speeding away from the Central Hillside crime scene minutes after the shooting — or that she even knew about the homicide until hours after the fact.

They have asked 6th Judicial District Mark Munger to toss her felony charges of aiding and abetting intentional second-degree murder and attempted first-degree aggravated robbery.

But the prosecutors argued that it was Baker herself who admitted to police that she transported her boyfriend, Deandre Demetrius Davenport; her brother, Noah Duane Baker; and a third man, Noah Anthony Charles King. Authorities have said Davenport shot Grahek twice when he refused their demands to give up drugs and cash.

"It would be proper for a jury to decide just how in the dark Ms. Baker really was when she, admittedly, drove her Jeep for these three on February 14, 2017," Wanta and Fralich wrote.

The prosecutors said surveillance video shows Tara Baker's 1999 Jeep Cherokee stopping near King's house, which is directly across an alley from Grahek's home, around 1:30 p.m. — about a half-hour before the shooting.

The Jeep is seen again just before 2 p.m., speeding away from the scene at nearly the same moment as the shooting is reported to 911, according to the documents. Video also shows Baker stopping at a nearby gas station in the Jeep at 2:20 p.m., they said.

Baker's defense attorneys, Gerald Wallace and Sonia Sturdevant, argued that it was unclear who was driving up until the Jeep was seen at the gas station. They said Noah Baker was known to borrow his sister's vehicle.

However, the prosecutors contended that Tara Baker specifically told police in an interview three days later that she was driving both before and after the shooting. Further, they argued, she had reason to know a crime had been committed.

"While Ms. Baker more than likely did not plan for a homicide resulting from any of her actions, she certainly would have been privy to enough knowledge that Mr. Baker, Mr. Davenport, and Mr. King were, at the very least, involved in a robbery," Wanta and Fralich wrote.

Munger this week took Baker's dismissal motion under advisement. He has not indicated when he would issue a ruling.

All five defendants charged in the case have now lodged some form of challenge to their charges.

Davenport, King and Noah Baker — all of whom are facing potential life sentences if convicted on first-degree murder charges — recently filed motions seeking dismissal of their grand jury indictments.

Their attorneys, each filing separate memorandums, cited alleged procedural errors in the grand jury process in arguing that the indictments must be tossed. Prosecutors will file a response to those motions next week before Munger issues a ruling.

Meanwhile, the judge is already considering a challenge from 26-year-old Xavier Alfred Haywood, who is accused of providing the information that led to the attempted robbery, and then harboring the four co-defendants at a Superior hotel after the robbery was botched.

His attorney, Tracy Eichhorn-Hicks, asked Munger at a hearing last month to dismiss his client's felony charge of aiding an offender to avoid arrest, citing a lack of probable cause. Eichhorn-Hicks declined to make formal arguments in support of the motion, instead asking the judge to rule based on police reports. That is expected to happen by early January.

With challenges pending in all five cases, no future court dates have been scheduled.