Crime & Courts

Court documents shed light on murder charges in once-closed Mat-Su case

PALMER — Court documents say Damien Peterson put a gun to 16-year-old Frank Woodford's chest and pulled the trigger, then threatened a witness if he didn't say Woodford shot himself.

The documents were filed Saturday with second-degree murder charges against 19-year-old Peterson in Palmer Superior Court. He had been arrested in Anchorage the day before.

The charges mark a dramatic turn in the investigation into Woodford's death, which was declared closed last year for a lack of evidence but reopened after the murder of 16-year-old David Grunwald.

Peterson and 19-year-old Austin Barrett were the only people with Woodford when he was shot, according to the affidavit filed with Peterson's murder charges. At the time, they told investigators Woodford shot himself, according to a 2016 incident report.

Barrett and Peterson's younger brother, Devin, both face charges in Grunwald's murder. They are among five teens charged in the death of the teenager from a relatively privileged background whose murder drew national attention.

The Woodford shooting happened at a house on North Jasper Drive in Wasilla and was reported just after midnight June 27, according to Alaska State Troopers. Woodford was still alive when troopers and medics arrived. He told them he didn't shoot himself, according to the incident report.

His mother said Woodford grew up in foster care and had run away from his most recent placement. He was staying at the house on Jasper with a number of other teenagers and at least two adults.

Michelle Woodford said in a phone interview Monday that she's still frustrated it took this long to charge someone in Frank's murder.

"I'm glad that they got him. It doesn't bring back my son," Woodford said. "Now I want them to get whatever they deserve."

A sworn affidavit filed with the Damien Peterson murder charges indicates the break in the case came via an unrelated theft case.

A defendant in the late-January theft case told an investigator he gave Peterson a ride in October, according to the affidavit filed by troopers Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn. Peterson told him about the shooting and said, "I got a body on me," but said he didn't think the gun was loaded, the trooper wrote. Peterson said the only people he told about Woodford were his brother and his mother, according to the affidavit.

A second witness interviewed in early February was with Peterson when Woodford was shot, the affidavit indicates. That person is never identified as Barrett, however, but only as "Cooperating Witness #2."

The first witness was offered no deals for his cooperation, Wegrzyn said. But the second witness was "offered consideration in an open criminal case he is facing for his cooperation in this investigation."

The second witness said he and Peterson smoked marijuana the night of June 26 and were listening to music on an iPad, according to the affidavit. Peterson was loading and unloading the pistol: "racking the slide back and forth" to eject live rounds, then picking up the loose cartridges and reloading the magazine.

The witness said Peterson pointed the gun at him, Wegrzyn wrote. He said "he acted tough like it didn't bother him but he was afraid at the time."

Woodford came into the downstairs bedroom and lay on the bed, the affidavit states; Peterson continued to load and unload the gun and then pointed the pistol at Woodford.

The witness, who began to cry during his conversation with Wegrzyn, said he could tell Woodford was scared, the trooper wrote.

The witness said Peterson pointed the gun at Woodford's head and at his chest and pulled the trigger, the affidavit said.

Then Peterson pointed the gun at the witness and told him Woodford "shot himself," Wegrzyn wrote. Peterson went outside and called his brother Devin for a ride. Then, the witness said, Peterson threatened to have him killed if he told anyone what happened, according to the affidavit.

Another witness on Feb. 3 told troopers he overheard Peterson tell someone he had shot Woodford accidentally, the affidavit states.

On Friday, Peterson said, "OK," when advised he was under arrest for murder, Wegrzyn wrote.

Peterson was arraigned Saturday morning in Palmer on second-degree murder and third-degree assault charges. He remains jailed on $500,000 cash bail and release to a third-party custodian.

Zaz Hollander

Longtime ADN reporter Zaz Hollander is based in the Mat-Su and is currently focused on coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska. She also covers the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at