Potential jurors questioned about social media, SB91, knowledge of Grunwald case
Jury selection is underway for Dominic Johnson’s murder trial and the effort to find a group of unbiased jurors could take longer than expected.
With the publicity surrounding co-defendant Erick Almandinger’s trial and conviction earlier this year, Johnson’s defense attorney Lyle Stohler, is pushing to get this trial moved, likely to Fairbanks.
On the second day of individual juror questioning, Judge Gregory Heath said the court would be “lucky to get a jury by next week.”
Johnson is one of four people accused of murdering Grunwald on November 13, 2016. Almandinger was convicted of all nine charges in May. He will likely be sentenced for his role after co-defendants Bradley Renfro and Austin Barrett go to trial in April 2019.
Together the four are accused of beating Grunwald in Almandinger’s trailer. Investigators say they loaded Grunwald into his own Bronco and drove him to a site off Knik River Road where they walked him into the woods and shot him once in the head. Troopers said the group then burned Grunwald’s Bronco at the other end of the Valley.
Questions to jurors were centered around how much information they have heard about the case leading up to Johnson’s trial.
“There’s been pretrial publicity; both sides want to ensure Dominic gets a fair trial,” Stohler told one man.
Attorneys wanted to know which TV stations or papers people rely on for news, how active they are on social media and if they’ve read or posted comments on social media news articles.
“We’re concerned about whether some people are influenced by that,” Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak said about Facebook comments.
KTVA live streamed Almandinger’s entire trial on Facebook. Potential jurors were asked if they watched the stream and how much they remembered from the trial.
Grunwald’s family created a “Justice for David” Facebook page. People were asked if they’d ever visited the page.
Attorneys questioned other issues like people’s feelings about Senate Bill 91 and their knowledge of Edie Grunwald’s run for lieutenant governor, or if they had interaction with her while she severed in the National Guard.
Questionnaires went out to 250 potential jurors before individual questioning. Last week, Judge Heath excused about 55 people based on their answers.
Heath said it was premature to grant a change of venue motion at this point when they still have a long list of potential jurors to interview.
A second panel will be brought in for questioning on Wednesday.
The trial could take up to one month and would likely wrap up at the beginning of December.
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