Crime & Courts

Sentencing not likely until next year for teen convicted in Valley murder

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: September 12, 2018
  • Published September 7, 2018

PALMER — A teen convicted in the 2016 murder of 16-year-old David Grunwald isn't expected to be sentenced until next year.

Erick Almandinger, 18, apparently won't have a sentencing hearing until next March at the earliest, both sides involved in the case said at a status hearing Thursday afternoon in Palmer Superior Court.

That timing is influenced by various factors including trials for the other defendants in the crime and the retirement of the judge presiding over the case.

Another status hearing in October will help clarify the timing of the sentencing phase.

Erick Almandinger, 16 at the time of Grunwald's death, was convicted in May of murder, kidnapping, arson and related charges.

Prosecutors during the trial said Almandinger joined three others in beating Grunwald with a .40-caliber Ruger — Almandinger's gun — at a camper behind Almandinger's Palmer home and then driving him, bleeding and half-conscious, to a remote spot near the Knik River in his own 1995 Ford Bronco before shooting him once in the head and then torching the Bronco at a location across the Matanuska Valley.

Almandinger's attorney had argued the defendant was too scared to stop the murder but didn't commit it.

Three more defendants may face juries in the coming months, starting with 18-year-old Dominic Johnson, whose trial is scheduled to begin in late October.

The other two defendants — 17-year-old Brad Renfro and 21-year-old Austin Barrett — are scheduled for evidentiary hearings in late December, with trials expected in early spring.

Almandinger participated in Thursday's hearing by phone from jail. His attorney and Superior Court Judge Gregory Heath also called in. Grunwald's parents, Ben and Edie, as well as a number of supporters sat in the courtroom for the brief proceeding.

Heath is retiring, but is expected to return to handle the Almandinger sentencing if not the other trials, prompting a delay under court rules.

Attorneys involved in the case also discussed waiting for the trials of the other defendants to wrap up before the sentencing is held.

Almandinger's attorney, Jon Iannaccone, said during the hearing he expects to call one witness during sentencing. He said in an interview Friday that witness is Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor who has testified on adolescent brain development during U.S. Supreme Court cases and appeared on numerous national television programs.

Assistant District Attorney Melissa Howard said the prosecution will need two days to present its case.

After the hearing, Edie Grunwald reminded family supporters to submit victim impact statements as part of the sentencing process.

A fifth defendant in the case was never charged in the killing. Devin Peterson, 20, was sentenced last month to six years flat time for concealing weapons used in the crime and providing the others with a gas can used in torching the Bronco. He was sentenced to another three years on separate federal pornography charges.