Murder suspect Dominic Johnson conceals new tattoo in court
In the two months leading up to his murder trial, suspect Dominic Johnson appears to have gotten a tattoo of a gun on his hand.
Johnson is one of four people accused of beating and murdering 16-year-old David Grunwald in November 2016.
As jury selection for his trial began at the end of October, Johnson entered the courtroom in street clothes, slacks and a white shirt, and had a distinct image of a gun on his right hand. Close up, it looks like a revolver.
When he sat down at the defense table, Johnson quickly shielded his hand from sight and put on a black brace to cover the image.
Johnson's hands were ink-free for his evidentiary hearing Aug. 14–15.
Johnson is facing nine charges including first-degree murder, tampering with evidence and kidnapping.
Alaska State Troopers said Johnson, Erick Almandinger, Bradley Renfro and Austin Barrett pistol-whipped David Grunwald in Almandinger's trailer the night of Nov. 16, 2016. State prosecutors said the group decided to murder Grunwald to cover up the beating then burned Grunwald's Bronco to further cover up the crime.
Almandinger was the first suspect to go to trial.
During his three-week trial in May 2018, investigators showed cell phone data evidence that placed the group where Grunwald's body was found in the woods off Knik River Road and the site where the Bronco was burned. Investigators said the teens stopped at Devin Peterson's house and asked for advice. Troopers said Peterson gave them gas cans and told them to "burn that bitch."
Peterson also held on to the two guns used to beat and kill Grunwald. Investigators found the weapons in a backpack. Peterson pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and hindering prosecution and in August was sentenced to six years for his role in the crime.
A jury convicted Almandinger on all nine charges, including first-degree murder. His sentencing is tentatively scheduled for April 2019.
Barrett and Renfro are expected to go to trial together in April 2019. They have an evidentiary hearing scheduled for December, but that could be delayed due to Johnson's trial.
Department of Corrections spokesperson Megan Edge said Johnson has been in state custody since Dec. 9, 2016. A week before, on Dec. 2, he agreed to show investigators where Grunwald's body was located but did not make any other statements.
Edge said Johnson was being held at the Anchorage Correctional Complex during his evidentiary hearing in August, when there was no tattoo on his hand.
He was transferred to the Mat-Su Pre-trial Facility on Oct. 21. Johnson showed up for jury selection on Oct. 25 with the gun tattoo.
Edge said she couldn't comment on Johnson's case specifically because inmate files are confidential, but she said tattoos in prison are considered an infraction, not a crime. The discipline is left up to the facility in which the prisoner is housed.
A variety of tools are used to create tattoos while incarcerated, Edge said, including pens, paper clips and toothbrushes.
When asked about his client's tattoo, Johnson's defense attorney Lyle Stohler had no comment.
Opening statements in Johnson's trial are expected to begin Monday, Nov. 26. The trial could take three to four weeks.
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