Jury deliberates Johnson role in Grunwald murder
Jury members have started deliberations in Dominic Johnson's trial on murder charges in 16-year-old David Grunwald's death.
Johnson, 18, is the second of four suspects to go to trial; a jury convicted Erick Almandinger, now 19, on all nine charges earlier this year.
During his 90-minute closing argument, Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak called the trial "a search for the truth."
He said Johnson was responsible for every crime he's charged with, including assault, kidnapping and first-degree murder. Almandinger, Bradley Renfro and Austin Barrett are charged with the same crimes.
"It was all Dominic Johnson, and it was to show he was violent enough to be in this gang," Kalytiak said.
Grunwald's parents kept their heads down as Kalytiak once again showed the jury graphic pictures from the crime scene and autopsy and talked about David's final moments.
"We can't prove what was going on in his mind in those 27 minutes he was being driven out to Knik River Road, when they broke his phone, when they marched him into the dark woods at gunpoint. And we can't prove what was going through his mind right before the shot," Kalytiak said.
State prosecutors also don't have to prove it was Johnson who pulled the trigger. Kalytiak said they simply have to show, under the theory of accomplice liability, that Johnson had a willing part in all of it.
Facebook messages show it was Johnson who asked to borrow Almandinger's gun, the weapon used to pistol-whip Grunwald in the head on the night of Nov. 13, 2016. During the trial the medical examiner showed pictures of Grunwald's seven head wounds, as well as defensive injuries to his hands and arms.
State prosecutors have said the group killed Grunwald in the woods off Knik River Road to cover up the beating.
"David Grunwald was taken to a place where no one was going to save him," Kalytiak said.
A new piece of evidence was also a big focus of the state's closing. A cellphone video taken Nov. 13, 2016, just hours before Grunwald was murdered, shows Johnson talking about wanting to hit someone in the head. That clip, which troopers had been seeking for two years, surfaced during the final week of witness testimony.
Kalytiak said the video shows Johnson's intent to start the chain of events that proved fatal.
"It's something very unique: it's a recording of the defendant's self-proclaimed state of mind on the day the beating and the murder happened," Kalytiak said. "Rarely do we get something like this in a criminal trial."
Johnson's defense attorney, Lyle Stohler, used his closing argument to try to poke holes in the troopers' cellphone evidence they presented at trial.
"We don't have any [cellphone] points moving east or west on Knik River Road; that's where David Grunwald was killed," Stohler said. "The reason he's not present is because Dominic Johnson didn't want David Grunwald killed that night."
Stohler said his client instead got out of Grunwald's Ford Bronco, which was later found burned, before Grunwald was killed. The attorney suggested Johnson was walking in the Butte area.
Johnson is guilty of most of the crimes he's charged with according to Stohler, who told the jury to convict Johnson of arson, tampering with evidence, kidnapping and felony murder. But he asked the jury to find Johnson not guilty on the first-degree murder charge.
Stohler also argued Johnson is guilty of second-degree assault, not first-degree as charged, because Grunwald's pistol-whipping injuries weren't that serious.
He quoted the medical examiner's words: "'Without injury of the gunshot wound, with a degree of medical certainty, he,' meaning David Grunwald, 'should have been able to recover fully.' That's what the doctor said. That's not a serious injury."
Stohler's closing took a bizarre turn when he began to discuss Johnson's "gang-related" attire.
State prosecutors have called Johnson and his friends "wannbe gang-bangers" who idolized the Crips lifestyle by wearing the color blue and flashing the "C" sign.
"You've heard testimony they wore blue. So what?!" Stohler laughed.
Stohler then proceeded to give the jury a history lesson of the necktie, telling them, "Fashion changes."
"The neck tie traces its origin as men's fashion to the Thirty Years War; that was a war in Europe to 1618 to 1648," Stohler said.
He told the jury how the French king hired Croatian mercenaries who wore a cape with a "fancy neck tie."
"The French king saw the fancy neck tie and he thought it was fashionable, thought it looked good. He started to introduce the neck tie in the French court as part of men's dress," Stohler continued. "That caught on and 400 years later we're still wearing neck ties. Doesn't make me a Croatian mercenary, doesn't make me a wannabe Croatian mercenary."
In his rebuttal, Kalytiak questioned why Johnson was able to lead investigators to Grunwald's body on Dec. 2, 2016 if he wasn't present during the murder as the defense suggested.
"They're saying it's possible he didn't go to Knik River Road. Where would he have gone?" Kalytiak asked. "Would he have stayed on the road, what was he doing? Did he turn his phone off between 9 (p.m.) and 9:35 (p.m.) and if he did so, why did he turn his phone off those times he was by himself and bored?"
Kalytiak talked about the work it took to find a jury in this case and quoted Teddy Roosevelt during his closing rebuttal.
"'Justice consists of not being neutral between right and wrong, but finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong,'" Kalytiak said. "I'm confident that you, having sat here for weeks listening to evidence, you have a very good idea of what is right and wrong and what justice in this case should be."
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