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New charges in Grunwald case add assault and arson to murder

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: December 23, 2016
  • Published December 23, 2016

Bradley Renfro, center, scans the courtroom following his arraignment on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, at Palmer Superior Court. Next to him are Dominic Johnson, left, and Austin Barrett. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)

PALMER — New charges filed in the murder of David Grunwald indicate four teenagers participated in the pistol-whipping that preceded the Palmer teenager's death.

A grand jury on Thursday handed up three additional charges in the murder case that's drawn national attention and revealed a sordid side of teenage life in the Valley. Alaska State Troopers arrested five people age 19 or younger for their roles in the murder the weekend of Dec. 9.

Grunwald went missing Nov. 13 after he didn't come home from dropping off his girlfriend in Butte. Troopers the next day found his Ford Bronco, burned down to its frame, on the rough road leading up Bald Mountain Ridge near Wasilla.

Hundreds embarked on fruitless searches for the teen until his remains were found Dec. 2 based on a tip from one of the teens now accused in the crime.

Four of the five teenagers arrested for their roles in Grunwald's death received new charges.

Austin Barrett, 19; Erick Almandinger, 17; Dominic Johnson and Bradley Renfro, both 16, "recklessly caused serious physical injury" to Grunwald with a pistol either as principals or accomplices, the grand jury indictment states. The grand jury also added new felony charges of first-degree vehicle theft for the four accused of stealing the Bronco.

Johnson, Almandinger and Renfro were also charged with arson for "starting a fire or causing an explosion" while Grunwald's Bronco was parked on municipal or state land, the document states.

Only 18-year-old Devin Peterson, the defendant charged with helping cover up the crime, but not participating in it, received no new charges in the indictment.

All five remained jailed at the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility in Palmer, Goose Creek Correctional Center on Point MacKenzie and Cook Inlet Pretrial in Anchorage, according to an inmate tracking database. All but Peterson are being held without bail. Peterson's bail was set at $100,000 and release to a third-party custodian.

The four named in the new charges are scheduled to be indicted on Tuesday morning in Palmer Superior Court.

David Grunwald, Fall 2016. (Courtesy Grunwald family)

Grunwald's parents, Ben and Edie, said in a statement Friday afternoon the additional charges sound right.

"We expected these and a few more to cover everything they did to David," they wrote. "It's a step in the right direction to mitigate the juvenile criminal activity that runs rampant in Palmer and Wasilla."

The Grunwalds and their supporters are calling for changes to Alaska's juvenile justice laws "so that those under 18 can expect real consequences," read the statement. "This is so very serious!"

According to charging documents in the murder case, Grunwald came to a trailer next to Almandinger's Palmer home to drink and smoke marijuana. He was bludgeoned with a pistol before being loaded into his own Ford Bronco and driven to the Knik River, where he was shot and killed.

The teens torched the Bronco and left it on a road at the base of the Talkeetna Mountains, where it was found the next day, according to the charges.

The only motive Almandinger provided during a police interview during which he alternately said Johnson or Barrett shot the teen was that Grunwald "had smoked all his weed," according to a sworn affidavit filed with charging documents.


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