PALMER – Devin Peterson bounced his knees as he sat in a Palmer courtroom Friday and agreed to prison time for his role in the death of David Grunwald.
Peterson, the only teen involved in the high-profile Valley murder not actually charged with killing Grunwald, made state and federal plea deals that promise six and three years in prison for a total of nine years flat time.
The deals mark the first courtroom resolution reached in the 2016 murder of the popular 16-year-old near Palmer. The sentences still need judicial approval.
[David Grunwald's father is suing 2 teens he says swapped his son's murder weapon for drugs. He's suing their parents, too.]
Grunwald was bludgeoned by a pistol and later shot, his body dumped in a remote spot along the Knik River. His Ford Bronco was found the day after he died, burned to its frame at the base of a mountain near Wasilla.
Peterson was 18 at the time. He was never charged with murder.
Now 19, he entered guilty pleas in Palmer Superior Court on Friday to felony charges of evidence tampering and hindering prosecution.
As part of his state plea agreement, Peterson at Friday's hearing said he agreed with certain grim facts of the case read aloud by Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak as Grunwald's parents and supporters filled half the courtroom.
Peterson concealed the .40-caliber Ruger and 9mm Springfield used to pistol-whip and kill David Grunwald for another teen who told him he'd killed Grunwald and needed to cover up the crime, Kalytiak said, reading from documents.
Then, he continued, Peterson lent that teen — 16-year-old Erick Almandinger — and another two gas cans to torch Grunwald's Bronco.
He told them to "burn that b—-," Kalytiak said.
An investigator later found the semiautomatic pistols and another weapon — all of them loaded — in a black North Face backpack at the Peterson home near Wasilla, he said. Peterson had kept the guns in a shed and shot them.
Almandinger and three others — Dominic Johnson, Austin Barrett and Bradley Renfro — remain jailed on murder charges. They face at least two trials starting with Almandinger's in May.
Peterson was also charged with possessing child pornography and distribution of indecent materials to minors in January 2017. Those charges stemmed from images discovered on his phone as investigators looked for evidence in the Grunwald case.
Federal child pornography charges followed. Last week, Peterson entered a guilty plea in the separate federal case in Anchorage to distributing a controlled substance to a minor.
The state plea deal on the Grunwald charges dismisses the pornography and distribution charges.
Peterson's state sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 30.
During Friday's hearing, he sat at the front of the courtroom in yellow jail scrubs and pink slippers, his hands cuffed and legs bobbing up and down.
He answered "Yes ma'am" or "No, ma'am" to Superior Court Judge Kari Kristiansen's questions. None of his family members attended the hearing.
Grunwald's parents, Ben and Edie, sat in the gallery.
Michael Hull, the Grunwald pastor at Valley Baptist Tabernacle, expressed relief after Friday's hearing ended.
"I'm grateful that we are seeing some results," Hull said. "I hope that it will help move along the cases for the other four defendants."
If convicted, Peterson would have faced stronger penalties for the sexual offense charges than those connected to the murder, prosecutors said.
Under SB 91, Alaska's criminal justice reform law, Peterson faced 18-month suspended sentences for each felony conviction, meaning no jail time unless he violated his conditions of release.
Under the sex-offense charges, however, he faced sentencing ranges from two to 15 years on different counts, according to Melissa Howard, who prosecuted the case with Kalytiak.
The Grunwald case caught up Peterson's big brother, as well.
Damien Peterson, 20, agreed to a plea deal in December on second-degree murder charges for killing 16-year-old Frank Woodford the summer before the Grunwald murder.
He entered a guilty plea to manslaughter. His sentence has yet to be determined. A hearing is scheduled May 9.