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Crime & Courts

Trailer involved in Grunwald beating takes center stage at murder trial

Prosecutors and David Grunwald’s father, Ben Grunwald, talk after the jurors viewed a camper trailer in the murder trial of Erick Almandinger. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

PALMER – One by one, jurors in the David Grunwald murder trial stepped into the camper trailer where authorities say a group of teenagers pistol-whipped the 16-year-old until he was bloody and semi-conscious.

The teens beat Grunwald so badly in that trailer behind Erick Almandinger's Palmer home they decided they had to kidnap and kill him near the Knik River in November 2016, prosecutors say. Then they torched his 1995 Ford Bronco across the Valley at the base of the Talkeetna Mountains.

Almandinger, 18, is the first of four teens charged in Grunwald's death to stand trial in Palmer Superior Court. The trial started Monday.

The camper was towed to the Palmer courthouse Wednesday so members of the jury determining his innocence or guilt could examine it firsthand.

Instructed not to talk, each juror waited silently in the parking lot behind the courthouse, then disappeared into the older-model Holiday Vacationer RV for a brief look around.

Almandinger watched with his legal team as did prosecutors and Grunwald's father, Ben, and a group of supporters.

Erick Almandinger stands trial for the murder of David Grunwald at the courthouse in Palmer on Wednesday. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

Two state troopers designated as court-service officers stood with the group. A third carrying a long gun stood watch nearby.

Five teens from the Valley are charged in the killing, four of them with murder, kidnapping, arson and other charges: Almandinger, Austin Barrett, Bradley Renfro and Dominic Johnson.

Grunwald stopped by Almandinger's that mid-November Sunday night to drink and smoke marijuana, Almandinger told investigators.

Johnson, Barrett and Grunwald started smoking pot in the garage, Almandinger told investigators,  but broke into the locked trailer because it was cold.

The trailer's kitchen, living area and bathroom were furnished with imitation wood panel and bright yellow accents like kitchen cabinets and a shower curtain, according to photos displayed Wednesday.

Almandinger told investigators he was using the bathroom inside the house when Johnson messaged that he was going to beat Grunwald, according to a transcript of a December 2016 interrogation.

Almandinger said when he hesitated, Johnson replied: "Well, I don't like the way he's talking. I don't like the way he's acting. And he smoked all your weed."

The other teens pistol-whipped Grunwald after locking him in the bathroom and turning off the lights, Almandinger told investigators.

Then they pulled the semi-conscious Grunwald from the trailer into the Bronco and drove out to Knik River Road, where one of them shot him once in the head and left his body on the ground, authorities say.

The savage beating left the inside of the trailer spattered with blood.

Some of the teens later pulled out a carpet and burned it, investigators say. Then they doused the interior with bleach.

Kyle Pratt, a longshoreman who lives next door, testified Wednesday that he smelled a bizarre odor that Monday morning he described as a "a pungent smell of chemicals and maybe burning plastic."

Pratt said he called police in early December to report those observations as soon as he read media reports about Almandinger's arrest.

Prosecutors say Almandinger provided the gun used in the pistol-whipping, a Ruger .40-caliber pistol, and was a gang-fascinated member of the group that did the killing.

Almandinger's attorney says his client helped burn the Bronco and lied to investigators but did not kill Grunwald.

The trials of the other defendants – Barrett, Renfro and Johnson – are expected to start later this year.

Devin Peterson, accused of hiding the guns and giving the teens gas cans, has already agreed to a six-year state prison sentence in a plea deal.

He is expected to serve a total of nine years flat time after being sentenced to three years in U.S. District Court on Monday on charges that resulted from the Grunwald investigation.

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