'Gang-related' photos allowed in Almandinger trial
Pictures depicting murder suspect Erick Almandinger doing “gang-related” activity will be shown to jurors during his trial.
Almandinger, now 18, is accused of shooting and killing 16-year-old David Grunwald in November 2016.
Judge Gregory Heath granted, in part, the motion to “preclude the State from introducing evidence of uncharged bad acts,” but that only limits a few pieces of evidence.
During the investigation, Alaska State Troopers found several photographs on Almandinger’s social media accounts like Snapchat, as well as on his tablet.
Those pictures include Almandinger flashing a “C” sign, which typically represents the California-based Crips gang.
In an evidentiary hearing in February, Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak said investigators found numerous searches for Crips-related content, like jewelry and clothing, on Almandinger’s tablet.
Judge Heath ruled the State can use the gang sign pictures but must redact some of the information in the text or captions of the photos.
There’s another photo of Almandinger with the word “Killahs” written on top of it, as well as a photo of Almandinger with “Gang gang” superimposed.
Heath wrote, “It is unlikely that the photographs will lead the jury to decide the case on improper grounds, or will distract from the main issues of the case."
Prosecutors can also tell jurors Almandinger was living in “trap houses”-- or drug houses-- the summer of 2016.
His mother, Chrystal Carlson, testified at the evidentiary hearing in February that she hadn’t seen her son in the six months before he was arrested. She said Almandinger started smoking marijuana when he was about 14 and she didn’t allow that behavior in her house.
Carlson said Almandinger had lived in a tent before moving in with his father and grandmother in the fall of 2016.
“I figured he was 16 and there wasn’t much I could do to drag him home,” Carlson said.
Heath said the state can introduce that information during trial.
“The evidence is admissible solely to describe the unsupervised, transient living conditions Erick Almandinger and his friends experienced."
What jurors won’t see are writings from a notebook troopers collected from Almandinger’s room.
Alaska State Troopers Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn said there was one rap song called "Criminal s—t."
“We gonna 187 a n—a every day and we really give a f—k,” he read aloud at February’s evidentiary hearing
Wegrzyn went on to explain, “187 is a commonly known California penal code for murder or along those lines. It has nothing to do with Alaska but is associated with murder.”
Judge Heath decided the lyrics and any other evidence from the notebook “could potentially distract the jury from the main issues in the case."
State prosecutors also can’t tell jurors Almandinger attempted to sell his father’s gun.
Judge Heath wrote in his ruling, “The attempt to sell a gun does not establish Erick’s motive or intent with regard to the crimes charged, and is therefore irrelevant and inadmissible.”
Last month Heath ruled all of the statements Almandinger made to investigators are admissible in court, including an hours-long interview at the Palmer trooper post after his arrest.
Jurors will also be shown pictures of Grunwald’s body at the crime scene, as well as autopsy photos that show he was beaten before being shot and killed.
Opening statements are scheduled for May 14. The trial is expected to take two to three weeks.
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