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Calling fair trial ‘unlikely’ in Palmer, attorney wants new venue for Grunwald murder

PALMER — The attorney for a teen accused of David Grunwald's murder wants the trial moved out of Mat-Su — even though Palmer is his client's hometown.

FILE – Defendant Erick Almandinger, one of four teens charged with killing 16-year-old David Grunwald, appeared at a pre-trial conference and oral arguments in the Palmer courthouse on Oct. 4, 2017. (Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News)

Erick Almandinger, 17, is one of four teens charged with Grunwald's murder, which began with a beating in a camper trailer.

Now Almandinger's court-appointed lawyer is arguing he won't get a fair trial in small-town Palmer given the notoriety of the November 2016 killing and the publicity generated by the death of a popular 16-year-old with a clean-cut reputation.

Jon Iannaccone, Almandinger's court-appointed attorney, doesn't suggest a better location.

Grunwald went missing in mid-November last year. His torched Ford Bronco was found the next day at the base of the Talkeetna Mountains. But despite hundreds of searchers combing the area, his body wasn't found for three weeks and only after another teen later charged in the murder led authorities to it.

Iannaccone, in a change-of-venue motion filed last month, wrote that the community's search efforts for Grunwald were "admirable" and the "outrage and horror" were understandable when his body was found and arrests made.

But, Iannaccone continued, it is unlikely Almandinger can get a fair trial given "the attention this case has gotten and the (intense) anger over it."

FILE – David Grunwald in fall 2016. He was killed in November 2016. (Courtesy Grunwald family)

He is asking Palmer Superior Court Judge Gregory Heath for an immediate change of venue.

The prosecutor in the case, Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak, opposes moving the trial.

Yes, Palmer is a small town, Kalytiak wrote in his opposition to the change of venue, filed last week. But the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, with more than 100,000 residents, offers a large jury pool from many places besides Palmer, he wrote. People involved in the Grunwald search would be weeded out during jury selection.

News reports about Grunwald's death have been read by people across Alaska, Kalytiak wrote.

"Picking a jury on this case in Anchorage, Fairbanks or Kenai would require the same amount of attention and diligence as picking a jury in Palmer," he wrote.

Also charged in Grunwald's murder are Valley residents Dominic Johnson, 17, Austin Barrett, 20, and Bradley Renfro, 17. Devin Peterson, 19, is charged with helping hide evidence used in the crime.

Almandinger successfully asked Heath to try him separately from the others earlier this year.

Almandinger's attorney filed several other motions in recent weeks.

Iannaccone is asking the judge to not allow jurors to see photos of Grunwald's body or the forested, brushy spot off Knik River Road where he died.

Investigators found the body covered in a layer of snow with a single gunshot at the hairline and numerous deep head wounds consistent with a pistol-whipping, court documents show.

Kalytiak opposes that motion too, saying the grim photos prove his theory that the teens meant to kill Grunwald and conceal the body.

Almandinger's attorney is also asking the judge to bar prosecutors from introducing evidence of Almandinger's "other bad acts": violent, profane rap lyrics found in a notebook in his room; his efforts to sell one of his father's guns; an apparent desire to be accepted as a member of the Crips gang; and statements that he and other defendants spent time the summer before the murder crashing at a flophouse near Wasilla where a 16-year-old was shot and killed in July 2016.

Kalytiak has until Dec. 29 to file his opposition to that and other motions, including those asking Heath to suppress several trooper interviews as well as the early December interrogation that included Almandinger's confession.

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