Murder trial begins more than a year after Grunwald’s death
THERE ARE CRIME SCENE PHOTOS INCLUDED IN THIS REPORT. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
(Editor's Note: The crime scene and autopsy images are shown with the consent of the Grunwald family. )
It was an emotional start to the trial of murder suspect Erick Almandinger, who is accused of shooting and killing 16-year-old David Grunwald in November 2016.
Almandinger, now 18, was dressed in street clothes instead of his usual yellow prison jumpsuit. He sat quietly in the courtroom as Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak made his opening statement to jurors.
“He (Grunwald) didn’t know they were hatching a terrible plan. And the terrible plan they hatched was to beat and torture David Grunwald,” Kalytiak said.
He talked about how Grunwald was severely beaten before he was killed. Jurors saw a picture from the autopsy showing wounds Grunwald suffered from being pistol-whipped.
Kalytiak followed with a picture of Grunwald’s body from the scene where he was found.
“They got him out of the Bronco, they marched him into the woods and about a football field length into the woods while he was begging for his life, their designated shooter shot a 9mm into David’s brain,” he told the jury.
Defense attorney Jon Iannaccone said this is an unusual case because he agrees Almandinger is guilty of certain crimes he committed after the killing. He admits Almandinger burned Grunwald’s Bronco in an attempt to cover up evidence and lied to investigators several times.
But Iannaccone said evidence found with the murder weapon points to a different shooter.
“This watch was in the backpack,” he said as he showed jurors a picture of a gold watch that was in the backpack along with the guns. “This watch with a distinctive ram’s head on it. This guy wearing the watch, that’s Austin Barrett, that’s the one who shot David Grunwald,” Iannaccone said.
Austin Barrett is also charged with Grunwald’s murder. So are Dominic Johnson and Bradley Renfro.
Johnson is expected to be tried this fall; Barrett and Renfro will be tried together-- but not until 2019.
Iannaccone said Almandinger was “too scared” to stop the murder but that doesn’t mean he committed the crime.
“Erick Almandinger is not guilty as the principal. What do I mean by that? He’s not the one who pulled the trigger. Erick Almandinger is not guilty as an accomplice. Why? Because he did not have the criminal purpose for David to die.”
A text exchange between Almandinger and Grunwald’s girlfriend, Victoria Mokelke, shows the suspect denies being with Grunwald the night he went missing.
“Im not home I’m at a friends house in anchorage drunk as f---,” Almandinger responded to Mokelke just after 11:30 p.m. on November 13.
Mokelke said Grunwald was always on time for his curfew and would call his parents if he was going to be a minute late.
She described the frantic search that followed when he didn’t show up at his home that night.
“It was restless nights for weeks and days. I didn’t sleep for days and days looking for him. We were hoping for anything,” she cried on the witness stand.
A forensic scientist and two Alaska State Troopers also testified on Monday. During their testimony, while jurors were being shown graphic pictures from the crime scene, Almandinger kept his head down and did not look up at the photos.
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