Grunwald campaign plays part in jury selection
Potential jurors in Dominic Johnson’s trial for the murder of David Grunwald will be asked several questions related to politics during the selection process.
Johnson is one of four people accused of killing 16-year-old Grunwald in November 2016.
Grunwald’s mother, Edie Grunwald, is currently running for lieutenant governor.
She was not in court for the second day of the evidentiary hearing on Wednesday; her husband said she was at a campaign event in Fairbanks.
But the subject of her campaign will be an issue the court has to talk through as it looks for jurors in Johnson’s trial of the murder of her son.
Questionnaires were also used during the jury selection in codefendant Erick Almandinger’s murder trial.
Defense attorney Lyle Stohler added several questions about Edie Grunwald’s campaign, asking people if they’ve ever contributed financially or put up yard signs or bumper stickers in support.
“There are very few witnesses the general public could have given money to,” Stohler told the judge. “That’s not an issue you run across every day. It’s an issue I’m very concerned.”
Stohler said he believes people who donate money to Edie Grunwald’s campaign could not be impartial if they were seated on the jury.
Judge Gregory Heath added another question to the form that would ask people if they could still be unbiased if they contributed money.
The questionnaires are a way to streamline the selection process and weed out people who may be prejudice to the case. Both attorneys will have a chance to individually interview people before they’re selected to sit on the jury.
“I’m erring on the side of the defense proposing the questionnaire and having it the way they like it, because they have greater concerns about people who may have been impacted by the first trial,” Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak said.
Because of the high profile nature of the case, Judge Heath added several extra panels of people for jury selection in Almandinger's trial. With the media attention that proceeding gained, Judge Heath said he'll make the pool of potential jurors even larger for Johnson's trial.
Stohler has filed several motions to prevent certain evidence from being shown during the trial. That includes pictures of what state prosecutors consider “gang-related” activity that shows the suspects wearing the color blue and flashing the C-symbol for the Crips gang.
Judge Heath allowed those types of photos to be shown in Almandinger’s trial. Kalytiak said many pictures would be the same for Johnson’s trial.
He said the pictures demonstrate the group’s solidarity and affinity for gang culture.
Johnson is the suspect accused of pistol-whipping Grunwald in Almandinger’s trailer before the murder. Facebook messages shown at Almandinger’s trial show Johnson was the one who asked Almandinger for a gun.
“That was the motive for the assault. He wanted to be a badass in the eyes of his colleagues because they viewed him as soft and weak,” Kalytiak said.
Stohler calls the pictures “inadmissible character evidence.”
He said there’s no evidence Johnson is currently or has even been in a Crips gang. He opposes all of the pictures with “gang-related” activity as well as photos showing the teens using drugs and alcohol.
“I’m not worried about a blue hoodie, but if you start talking about why that blue hoodie is significant, you can imagine I’m going to be on my feet,” Stohler told the judge.
“Not if the court rules ahead of time we can get it in,” Kalytiak interjected.
“I might still make my objection known for the record. I’m willing to make sure my issues are reserved for appeal,” Stohler responded.
Johnson goes to trial at the end of October.
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