Palmer DA called as witness in Barrett's evidence hearing
It was a unique scene in a Palmer courtroom at Austin Barrett’s evidentiary hearing as the district attorney took the witness stand.
The five-day hearing was an effort by defense attorney Craig Howard to get statements Barrett made about David Grunwald’s murder thrown out before trial.
Barrett, now 22, is one of four people arrested for beating and killing the Palmer 16-year-old in November 2016. He’s the last one to go to trial; juries have convicted Erick Almandinger, Dominic Johnson and Bradley Renfro of first-degree murder.
Howard accuses Alaska State Troopers of violating Barrett’s right to stay silent during interviews he had with investigators before he was arrested.
Lt. Mike Ingram picked up Barrett on Dec. 7, 2016. He was put in handcuffs and was “in custody” at the trooper post. At several points during his interview with Lt. Ingram and Sgt. Tony Wegryzn, Barrett said he was going to “plead the Fifth.”
Howard said any questioning should have stopped right there.
Troopers continued to talk to Barrett after those statements and Barrett asked them questions. Then eventually went to the District Attorney’s Office where Barrett talked with Roman Kalytiak.
Assistant District Attorney Lindsey Burton called Kalytiak as a witness for the state to discuss his conversation with Barrett. Kalytiak said Barrett was out of custody at that time and did not arrive in handcuffs.
“He was there to see me. I didn’t summons him to the DA’s office. Nor did I direct troopers to make contact with him on that day. On my mind he was there of his own free will,” Kalytiak told Burton.
Howard had his chance to cross-examine Kalytiak on Friday morning. He said troopers should have told Kalytiak that Barrett had been handcuffed and was in custody prior to his arrival at the DA’s office.
While Howard initially seemed reserved, he soon began wildly gesticulating and pounding on the podium — characteristics he displayed while cross-examining Ingram and Wegrzyn.
“If he had said, ‘I put handcuffs on him,’ and dragged him, transported him in, you would have asked, ‘Well, he’s in custody then?’” Howard said, punctuating his statements by bringing his hand down on the podium.
“It’s hard to answer what I would have done,” Kalytiak responded.
It’s rare for a state prosecutor to be called as a witness in their own case. Kalytiak said it’s only happened to him a couple times in his 40 years practicing law.
In the Dec. 7 interview, Kalytiak tells Barrett he doesn’t need to make a statement. Barrett later said he wanted to talk.
“It’s go time,” Barrett said on the recording played in court.
He acknowledged being with the group during the crimes but denied being a willing participant.
“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 told investigators.
During his closing argument on Friday, Howard said troopers’ actions were “nefarious” and they were “desperate to come up with a statement.”
“[Kalytiak] was purposefully kept in the dark by his agents and that’s what’s so outrageous that they would do that. They had to do something because they screwed up,” Howard said.
Kalytiak disagreed there was any “conspiracy” that the troopers withheld information from prosecutors.
It will be up to Judge Gregory Heath to decide what parts of the interviews, if any, the state can use as evidence. He said he would likely have a ruling in about 10 days.
Barrett’s trial is scheduled for April in Fairbanks.
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