2 weeks to trial, evidence motions loom for Grunwald murder suspects
The trial for David Grunwald murder suspects Austin Barrett and Bradley Renfro is less than two weeks away, but motions concerning evidence are still looming.
Jury selection for the pair is scheduled to begin Aug. 26 in Fairbanks.
Barrett’s defense attorney, Craig Howard, has asked for an evidentiary hearing next Thursday to discuss whether statements Barrett made to investigators should be used during the trial.
Howard filed a motion to suppress Barrett’s statement, saying Alaska State Troopers illegally detained the suspect. In his motion, Howard wrote law enforcement officers arrested Barrett, who was 19 at the time, on Dec. 7, 2016, a day before a grand jury returned an indictment for the murder charges.
“He was then placed against his will in the back seat of a police cruiser and taken to the Alaska State Troopers Post in Palmer,” Howard wrote.
He said Barrett was detained for three hours and agreed to talk with police.
“Eventually Mr. Barrett gave a statement which may have incriminating aspects to it,” Howard wrote.
His argument is that Barrett was illegally detained because there was no probable cause for his arrest because the grand jury had not yet convened.
An evidentiary hearing for the motion is set for Aug. 22 in Palmer, four days before the trial is supposed to begin in Fairbanks. Howard cited his extensive case load and personal family issues for the delay in filing the motion.
At a status hearing Tuesday, Howard called in saying there was another basis for contesting Barrett’s statement to investigators that he said could have been “legally tainted.”
“I want to be very upfront with the court, I may be asking for a continuance to file that motion,” Howard told the judge.
Judge Gregory Heath asked Howard to bring up all of his concerns and arguments during the time allotted for the evidentiary hearing.
“Here’s the thing Mr. Howard, we have a lot of pieces in play. We have a whole courthouse that’s working with us at this point in time. We have witnesses with schedules that have to get up there. We have a lot of moving parts,” Judge Heath said.
“I think the Miranda warning was tainted,” Howard explained. “Because they brought him in and didn’t tell him he was free to go. They didn’t tell him he was in custody or detention. They said, ‘We’ll take you home after you make a statement,’ which you really can’t do.”
Howard as well as Renfro’s attorney, Chris Provost, have filed motions to preclude state prosecutors from using a nine-second Snapchat video as evidence.
Investigators discovered the clip during Johnson’s trial last year. Johnson is the only person who is clearly visible on the video where he says, “In the head as hard as I can. Just to try to hurt him. Just to try to f---ing hurt him.”
Voices can be heard echoing Johnson’s statements in the background.
The video was time-stamped three hours before Grunwald was pistol-whipped and executed.
In his motion filed in June, Provost wrote, “ [...] the court should find there is no reliable evidence that Bradley Renfro was present in the shack at that time or that he uttered the words spoke by the secondary voice.”
The evidentiary hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 22. Barrett will call into the proceeding since he’s already been transferred to Fairbanks for his trial.
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