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Palmer jury to start deliberating fate of second Grunwald murder defendant next week

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: December 20, 2018
  • Published December 20, 2018

Dominic Johnson, the second of four teens who have been charged with murdering David Grunwald in November 2016 to go to trial, sits in a Palmer courtroom during the opening day of his his murder trial on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN)

PALMER -- Just one witness testified on behalf of Dominic Johnson, the second teen facing trial for the murder of 16-year-old David Grunwald two years ago.

Johnson, 18, faces murder and other charges in Grunwald’s November 2016 death. He’s one of four defendants, all teenagers at the time, accused of killing the Palmer teen. A fifth is serving a prison sentence for helping destroy evidence.

Investigators say Grunwald was beaten with a handgun in a camper behind a Palmer home, then driven in his Ford Bronco to a remote spot along the Knik River where he was shot once in the head and killed. His torched Bronco was found near the Talkeetna Mountains the next day. His body wasn’t found until early December 2016, when Johnson led authorities to the area.

Both sides rested Thursday after Johnson’s court-appointed attorney, Lyle Stohler, called a defense investigator to testify about cellphone coverage in the area where Grunwald died.

Witnesses for the prosecution earlier in the week testified that Johnson’s phone had no activity for about a half-hour the night Grunwald was murdered. One expert testified that was because of limited cellphone coverage along Knik River Road — the only access point to the remote site where Grunwald’s body was found — which is hemmed in by mountains to the south.

Stohler showed a 19-minute video of his investigator driving up and down the road, an iPhone propped on the dashboard. The investigator relied on the number of bars visible on the phone and one call she made to determine there was at least spotty service.

But prosecutor Roman Kalytiak picked away at the testimony: Johnson used a different kind of iPhone, and the presence of bars on a phone doesn’t necessarily mean there’s enough service to make calls.

There were no defense witnesses called at all in the trial of the first teen to face a jury, 18-year-old Erick Almandinger, who was convicted in May.

Johnson faces charges of murder, kidnapping, evidence tampering, assault, vehicle theft and arson. He elected not to testify during his trial.

Closing statements are scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday. Deliberations will begin after that.

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