Judge allows Grunwald body photos in murder trial
A judge has ruled crime scene and autopsy photographs of slain Palmer teenager David Grunwald can be used as evidence in the trial of murder suspect Erick Almandinger.
Almandinger, now 18, is accused of shooting and killing 16-year-old Grunwald in November 2016.
He’s one of four suspects in the crime and the first to go to trial.
On Friday, Judge Gregory Heath denied a motion from Almandinger’s attorney, Jon Iannaccone, seeking to “preclude/limit autopsy and crime scene photographs.”
The motion said Grunwald’s death was not disputed, but there were questions about who pulled the trigger. Iannaccone argued the “value of the photographs may be outweighed by danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury.”
He also requested some of the pictures be limited in size and format and asked they be in black-and-white rather than color.
Judge Heath denied the motion, saying there was “value in the photographs.”
Heath ruled the autopsy photos showed bruising on Grunwald’s arms and hands, indicating Grunwald was trying to protect himself.
“These photographs support the State’s theory that David Grunwald was executed after being beaten in a the camper trailer on the Almandinger property,” Heath wrote.
At a status hearing on Friday, Heath set jury selection for May 1. About 200 potential jurors will fill out questionnaires before being questioned by state prosecutors and Iannaccone.
Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak said the questionnaire will ask about a person’s background, education and occupation, as well as what information they’ve already heard about the Almandinger case and whether they an be impartial. Kalytiak asked the judge for extra time to find jurors.
“I hate to do a three or four week trial and find out that we haven’t carefully examined or vetted a juror. I think more time on the front end, even though it’s tedious and the questioning could be repetitive, I think more time on the front end saves problems on the back end,” Kalytiak told the judge.
There is still a pending change-of-venue motion, which Heath said he would look at if it’s not possible to find an impartial jury in the Mat-Su Borough.
“We have a whole week to select a jury. Either we’re going to get a jury or we’re not in that week. Then we’ll go from there,” Heath responded.
Heath also granted a motion to “limit attire” in the courtroom. Family and friends of David Grunwald are usually in the court wearing blue shirts that read “Justice for David” on them, and buttons saying "I love David Grunwald." Neither of those will not be allowed during any part of the trial.
Another motion regarding Devin Peterson was discussed but has yet to be filed, so specific details of the motion were not available Friday morning. Heath and Kalytiak talked about a “Motion to Transport” Peterson for testimony.
“I understand the defense is seeking some testimony from him whether possibly there was a plan by Peterson and the others to ‘pin this crime on Erick Almandinger,’” Kalytiak read from the paperwork.
In January, Peterson pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence in the Grunwald murder and admitted to hiding the murder weapons he says were given to him by Almandinger. He was also facing several federal charges for child pornography, after images were found on his phone during the Grunwald investigation.
The child pornography charges were dismissed but Peterson pleaded guilty to one federal charge of distributing drugs to a minor.
Peterson's plea deal calls for him to serve six years for two state charges, as well as three years for the federal crime. His state sentencing on April 30 was reset for August because prosecutors said he needs to be sentenced federally first. That will happen May 14.
Opening statements for Erick Almandinger’s murder trial are expected to begin May 14 as well.