'I would never kill someone': Grunwald murder suspect Austin Barrett interview played in court
For the first time, murder suspect Austin Barrett's interview with troopers was made public as the district attorney played it in open court during an evidentiary hearing in Palmer Thursday.
Barrett, now 22, is the last of four murder suspects to be tried in the brutal beating and killing of 16-year-old David Grunwald in November 2016.
During a lengthy trial in Fairbanks this fall, Renfro became the first to take the stand in his own defense, naming Barrett as Grunwald's killer.
Barrett is scheduled to stand trial in 2020, but hearings happening now will help determine what evidence is presented to jurors.
Thursday, Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak played a nearly two-hour interview between Barrett and Alaska State Troopers recorded on Dec. 7, 2016 — a day before the case was presented to a grand jury.
Barrett's defense attorney, Craig Howard, is seeking to have the interview suppressed. He argues troopers violated Barrett's right to remain silent and that the interview was obtained illegally. He's also filed several motions to dismiss the indictment on similar grounds.
At the beginning of the interview, Barrett is read his rights and agrees to speak with AST Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn and Lt. Michael Ingram. Soon after, he tells them he's "gonna plead the fifth and just wait" to share his side of the story the next day, when he was scheduled to testify before a grand jury.
Wegrzyn tells him that Almandinger told troopers that Barrett pulled the trigger.
"You're letting everyone else tell your story. You understand that, right?" he asks Barrett. "And you’re okay with that?"
"I guess that’s the decision I made," Barrett responds.
The conversation continues, with troopers convincing Barrett this is his opportunity to tell his side of the story.
Barrett admits he's scared of Almandinger, saying, "I mean in the past he's threatened to kill all of us."
As the interview continues, Barrett says he has a question for troopers.
"To say that I was there and I didn’t pull the trigger, and Erick did, where would that put me?" he asks.
Later, he presses troopers again, wanting to know what kind of consequences he will face if he cooperates with the investigation.
"Hypothetically speaking, if I was going to let you guys know anything, am I gonna go to jail for life, even though I didn’t do it?" he asks.
"Jail for life?" Wegrzyn responds, "Do you seriously think you’re going to jail for life?"
"That’s what I’m worried about," Barrett says.
Ingram asks Barrett if he'd like to speak with Kalytiak.
"Would you like me to bring the district attorney over, because he’s the only one that can make those deals," he explains. "I will bring him over right this minute."
"He’ll be here in 10 minutes," Wegrzyn chimes in.
After some discussion, Barrett tells the troopers, "I’d like him to come over."
As Ingram leaves to call the DA, Wegrzyn tries to calm the emotional teen.
"It just scares me that he said that I would do it," Barrett cries, "because I would never kill someone."
Barrett tells Wegrzyn he is concerned about what the world will think of him and he doesn't want his name to be in the news.
"I just don’t want to look like a bad person," he says, later adding, "I just don’t want my name involved. I want to be able to get a job and be a normal person."
Throughout the interview, the conversation between Barrett and the investigators strays from the immediate investigation. Barrett says he witnessed the death of 16-year-old Frank "Frankie" Woodford, a case that was reopened during the investigation into Grunwald's murder.
He also discusses his living situation over the years, his dad's job, his aspirations of becoming a songwriter one day and the group's apparent infatuation with gangs.
"I’m not a Crip," he tells them, "I’m just affiliated with people who think they’re Crips."
Kalytiak is expected to play the recorded interview between himself and Barrett next week, when the evidentiary hearing continues.
Judge Gregory Heath will ultimately decide how much, if any, of the interviews jurors will hear during Barrett's trial.
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