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Crime & Courts

Father of murdered Palmer teen files civil suit against criminal defendants

PALMER — David Grunwald's father is suing four teenagers accused in his son's 2016 murder, even as the criminal trial of one gets underway.

Grunwald filed a civil wrongful death suit in Palmer Superior Court this week that asks for more than $1 million from each defendant.

The suit names Bradley Renfro and Austin Barrett, both facing murder trials next year, as well as Devin Peterson, already convicted of evidence tampering and serving a 6-year prison sentence.

It also names Dominic Johnson, whose trial began this week in Palmer with jury selection. Opening arguments are expected to start next week.

Along with the four named defendants, the suit lists five "John Does."

Ben and Edie Grunwald listen to testimony during Erick Almandinger’s murder trial on May 17, 2018 in Palmer.  (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Grunwald is requesting a jury trial.

A civil proceeding differs from a criminal one. The guilt or innocence of a defendant isn't determined. The burden of proof is higher in a criminal case; a civil suit may result in damages awarded but not prison time.

On the criminal side, 18-year-old Erick Almandinger was already found guilty by a Palmer jury in May of multiple counts including murder and kidnapping. He isn't named in the civil suit.

Grunwald, a popular teen from a military family, vanished in mid-November 2016, triggering a frantic search by hundreds of people. His body was found in early December, a gunshot wound to the head, along the Knik River. His torched Bronco was found the next day.

Five teens were charged in the murder, at least one of whom Grunwald had known for years — Almandinger. Several others had less-privileged lives punctuated by sporadic homelessness, criminal acts and gang reverence.

Almandinger told investigators Grunwald came to his Palmer home to smoke marijuana and was bludgeoned with a pistol in a camper out back, then driven bloodied and half-conscious to the Knik. After the killing, the group hid out for several days and partied, a friend told a jury.

Johnson didn't like Grunwald, Almandinger told investigators, and asked him to bring a gun to the trailer. Johnson was angry that night, Almandinger said, because Grunwald "had smoked all his weed." Testimony during trial indicated there was an ample supply of marijuana at the Almandinger home.

The Grunwald civil suit says all four of the named defendants — Renfro, Barrett, Peterson and Johnson — committed "calculated, malicious, heartless and incomprehensible" acts.

"They held David against his will, they unmercifully beat David, they kidnapped David and took him to a remote area, and they shot David and left David's body in a remote site hoping David's body would never be found," the lawsuit says.

Grunwald is seeking damages over $1 million for his son's pain and suffering, extreme emotional distress, and death, the exact amount to be determined at trial.

He directed a reporter to contact his attorney, M.R. Spikes. Spikes wasn't available for comment Friday.

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