Fairbanks trial for remaining Grunwald murder suspects set to start in August
Jury selection in the murder trial for Bradley Renfro and Austin Barrett is expected to begin at the end of August in Fairbanks.
At a status hearing on Monday, Judge Gregory Heath outlined the trial schedule for the two remaining suspects in David Grunwald’s murder.
Grunwald was shot and killed on Nov. 13, 2016. Erick Almandinger and Dominic Johnson have been convicted of first-degree murder in the killing, and Devin Peterson pleaded guilty to hiding the murder weapons used to kill the teen.
Renfro and Barrett are the last two in the case to go to trial.
In March, Judge Heath moved the trial to Fairbanks, citing the publicity surrounding Almandinger’s and Johnson’s trials.
Jury selection will begin Monday, Aug. 26 when questionnaires will be given to prospective jurors. The first panel will be brought in for questioning the next day.
Judge Heath said he expected opening statements in the trial could begin the week after Labor Day and has blocked off three weeks for the trial, until Sept. 20.
“I don’t want to continue this anymore. Let’s get ‘er done in August. Expect the parties to be ready,” Judge Heath said. “The victims have the right to get the trial done and so do the defendants. Let’s get this finished.”
The defense attorneys have filed several motions to limit evidence that can be presented at trial, including a cell phone video discovered during Johnson’s trial.
State prosecutors have until the end of July to file opposition motions. The judge has yet to rule on any of those motions.
Update: Dominic Johnson
A jury convicted Johnson of all nine charges in December 2018, and in March 2019, Johnson’s attorney Lyle Stohler told the judge he needed time to have his client psychologically tested.
Johnson had a status hearing on June 20 to discuss any issues going forward with his sentencing.
At Friday’s hearing, Stohler said he was still waiting to have the testing done, partly due to the fact that he had recently taken over his wife's family law practice after Gov. Mike Dunleavy appointed her to a vacant judge position in Palmer.
Even with his new responsibilities, Stohler will stay on Johnson's case as part of the Office of Public Advocacy.
“I’ve contracted with OPA to remain counsel in the case,” Stohler said. “That situation caused a little bit of a delay.”
He expects to have Johnson’s psychological report done within the next few months.
Update: Erick Almandinger
Almandinger’s sentencing has been delayed after a change in counsel.
On March 20, 2019, Judge Heath gave Almandinger’s attorney Jon Iannaccone time to figure out if he’d like to have Almandinger psychologically tested.
At the next status hearing on April 18, Almandinger was in court with a new attorney, John Putikka.
Iannaccone, who had been working as a public defender with the Kenai OPA, took a job as a state prosecutor.
Putikka was assigned from the Bethel OPA office. He told the judge he’d only had a day to meet with Almandinger and asked for a 90-day extension to review boxes of material from the trial.
“I’m in a unique position of being the least informed person in the courtroom,” Putikka told the judge. “I didn’t attend any of the other hearings or the trial, haven’t reviewed any discovery or witness interviews or any of that.”
Almandinger is scheduled to be in a Palmer courtroom again on August 23, the Friday before Renfro and Barrett’s trial begins in Fairbanks.
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