Evidence depicts Grunwald murder suspects' home lives
As Erick Almandinger’s murder trial continues, jurors are learning more about the lifestyle and culture surrounding him and the other three suspects.
Almandinger, Dominic Johnson, Bradley Renfro and Austin Barrett are all accused of killing 16-year-old David Grunwald in November 2016.
Almandinger’s father has testified his son wasn’t going to school regularly that fall and had been living at drug houses over the summer.
In court on Tuesday, jurors heard from Dominic Johnson’s mother, Misty Johnson, and got some insight into his life before his arrest.
"This is you to Dominic,” defense attorney Jon Iannaccone read aloud. "No you won’t because I’m not visiting you in jail, no one will. You sure turned out to be quite a piece of shit."
Iannaccone read a volatile text message exchange between Misty and Dominic on November 11, 2016, just two days before troopers said Dominic took part in Grunwald’s murder.
"I’m going to throw a party when your ass goes to jail, a fucking party. Say hi to your dad while you’re in there,” Misty wrote to her son.
Troopers said it was Dominic who pistol-whipped Grunwald before the group shot him in the woods.
Misty told jurors she was upset Dominic “hadn’t been acting like himself” and that’s what prompted those messages.
"He was hanging out with kids I didn’t allow over and he was very upset I wouldn’t let them over and we got into a heated argument,” Misty said.
"Were you aware he was smoking marijuana with them?” District Attorney Roman Kalytiak asked.
"That’s the reason I was upset,” she responded.
Criminal justice technicians analyzed data from 10 devices from people connected to the case. They found videos of Almandinger on Dominic’s phone, taken less than 24 hours after Grunwald went missing.
One video appears to depict Almandinger rolling on the ground with wet pants.
"Is that piss, Erick? Is that piss?” someone in the video asked him.
Several days later, Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn stopped by Almandinger’s house to ask him about Grunwald’s disappearance.
Almandinger told him Grunwald has sources from the “dark web” to go “off the grid."
"So, what do you think happen? You tell me,” Sgt. Wegrzyn asked in the audio recording.
“Honestly, I think it was foul play, in reality,” Almandinger responded. "I don’t want to say it is, and it sucks to say it is, but there’s nothing else that makes any sense, to be honest with you.”
Almandinger’s tablet was also seized for the investigation. Sgt. Wegrzyn said it appeared Almandinger tried to delete items from the tablet before he gave it to troopers.
"When I looked over at him and I saw that slight movement from one icon looking like it went in a trash bin is the best way I can describe it,” Sgt. Wegrzyn recalled. "His hands were shaking, I told him to power it off. His hands were shaking to the point where it was difficult to power it off. He ultimately got it powered off but he was visibly shaking.”
Witnesses describe several of the suspects as homeless at one point or another.
Misty told the jurors there were times when Dominic wasn’t living with her but said he was never without a home-- he was staying with his grandmother.
She said she invited Austin Barrett and Bradley Renfro over for Thanksgiving that year because they were homeless and had no place to eat.
Almandinger appeared to come and go as he pleased at the home his father and grandmother share. The Sunday night— a school night— Grunwald went missing, Almandinger told troopers he was at a party in Anchorage. His father testified he wasn’t worried when he looked in Erick’s room at 1 in the morning and his son wasn’t home.
The pictures shown in court portray a lifestyle glamorizing guns, money and Crips gang culture which troopers say was a common thread between the suspects.
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