Interview with DA: Barrett claimed to be unwilling participant in Grunwald murder
Murder suspect Austin Barrett told the Palmer district attorney has was scared for his life and that’s why he didn’t tell anyone about what happened to David Grunwald in 2016.
Juries have already convicted Erick Almandinger, Dominic Johnson and Bradley Renfro for first-degree murder in the Palmer 16-year-old's slaying. Barrett will be the fourth and final suspect to go to trial.
Before Barrett’s trial begins in April, his defense attorney, Craig Howard, is seeking to have statements his client made to investigators not used as evidence.
Howard has filed several motions claiming Barrett’s statements were illegally obtained and is asking the judge to suppress them from the trial.
At the second day of an evidentiary hearing, Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak played an interview he had with Barrett and state troopers on Dec. 7, 2016 — a day before a grand jury indicted Barrett for murder.
Kalytiak repeatedly told Barrett he didn’t have to make a statement because investigators already had most of the case and the people involved figured out.
“Being that you’re the last man in I’d say there are two options: the complete truth or just don’t make a statement,” Kalytiak said.
Barrett named Almandinger as the shooter and mastermind behind the brutal pistol-whipping. He said Almandinger threatened to hurt Barrett, the other suspects and their families if anyone went to the authorities.
During Renfro's trial, however, Renfro pointed to Barrett being the shooter and said it was Barrett who threatened the group.
Barrett told investigators he was an unwilling participant and was going along with the group out of fear.
“What punishment, if any, are you deserving of for this particular incident,” Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn asked him during the interview.
“I don’t know because in my opinion I was kidnapped too, in a sense. But I mean, I wasn’t killed. I mean, just what we experienced is f------ going to be with us for the rest of our lives,” Barrett responded.
During the interview, Barrett described Grunwald as “goofy and silly.” He said Almandinger was “finessing” Grunwald, later explaining that meant Almandinger was using Grunwald to get money.
“He’s a long-term investment,” Barrett recounted. “Erick is acting like it’s his friend.”
Barrett detailed the pistol-whipping and how the group drove Grunwald to his death in the woods off Knik River Road. He said Almandinger fired the fatal shot.
“There was a flash and one echo. There was no more than one shot. David instantly just….his body…I’ve never seen anything like it,” Barrett said.
“I didn’t look at his body too much because I didn’t want to,” Barrett said as he teared up. “He was definitely dead.”
After the more than two-hour interview was played for the judge, Howard began an extensive cross-examination of Alaska State Trooper Lt. Mike Ingram.
Howard asked Ingram how long it usually takes to read a person their Miranda warning. Ingram said he couldn’t give an exact time.
Howard then pulled out his cellphone to begin timing Ingram.
“As soon as you start, I’ll start timing you," he said.
“You want me to read it,” Ingram asked.
“Read it,” Howard snapped back.
Many of Howard’s questions to Ingram surrounded his understanding of the Fifth Amendment and whether or not Barrett invoked his constitutional right when he said “I’ll plead the Fifth” at a few points during the interview.
“Austin was smart enough to tell you, ‘wait a minute, I do have the Fifth Amendment here,’ and you don’t want to honor it,” Howard said. “Do you honor it there?”
“No, I did not,” Ingram responded.
Ingram explained there appeared to be ambiguity in Barrett saying he was going to, “plead the Fifth.”
Howard said everything Barrett said after that statement should not be allowed to be used in trial.
It will be up to Judge Gregory Heath to determine if the interviews can be used as evidence. Howard expects his cross-examination of troopers to take at least two more days.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.