Judge moves final Grunwald suspects' trial to Fairbanks
The remaining two suspects in David Grunwald’s murder will go to trial in Fairbanks.
Judge Gregory Heath granted the change of venue motion for Bradley Renfo and Austin Barrett at an evidentiary hearing on Monday.
Renfro and Barrett are two of four people accused of shooting and killing 16-year-old David Grunwald on Nov. 13, 2016.
A jury convicted Erick Almandinger on all nine charges, including first-degree murder, in May 2018.
Dominic Johnson was also convicted of the same charges by a jury in December 2018.
Heath cited the publicity surrounding Almandinger and Johnson’s trials as one reason for the move. Almandinger is also scheduled for a two-day sentencing hearing at the end of March, which will likely draw even more media attention, the judge said.
Another factor was video evidence that was discovered late in Johnson’s trial. Investigators found a cell phone video they’d been looking for for two years where Johnson can be heard saying he wanted to hit someone on the head “as hard as I can, just to hurt him.”
While that video might not be used as evidence in Barrett and Renfro’s case, Judge Heath worried about the impact it may have already had.
“That’s my gut feeling at this point in time," Judge Heath said. "As much stuff that came in at the last trial, I believe and stand by my ruling we had a fair and impartial jury in the last case. I do believe that. There was stuff in that last trial that may not apply to these defendants and I’m not sure that bell can be unrung.”
Craig Howard, the public defense attorney for Austin Barrett, said he has a full case load which made scheduling the trial difficult.
Judge Heath initially wanted to have the trial in June or July but Howard voiced his strong opposition because of his extensive summer plans.
“I have not filed a lot of motions. I’ve been accommodating to try to get this case to trial as quickly as possible,” Howard said to the judge, throwing his hands up in frustration.
Renfro’s attorney, Chris Provost, said he did not have any scheduling issues.
Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak said the state has proved it could pick an unbiased jury in Palmer because they’ve done it twice for Almandinger and Johnson.
He agreed, however, that Almandinger’s upcoming sentencing was likely to attract more attention to the Grunwald case.
Renfro and Barrett have another status hearing in June. Their attorneys have to file any remaining motions by May 17.
Almandinger’s sentencing is scheduled for March 20-21. Judge Heath said he probably won’t hand down the actual sentence until April or May because he will need time to consider the information presented at the sentencing hearing.
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