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Palmer trial of first alleged Grunwald murder accomplice goes to jury

Erick Almandinger, right, enters a Palmer courtroom after a short recess in his trial Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media photo)

Jurors have begun deliberating in the trial of Erick Almindinger, one of several alleged accomplices in the 2016 murder of Palmer teenager David Grunwald.

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Prosecutors presented evidence over about two weeks, and when Almandinger’s defense rested without calling any witnesses — not even Almandinger himself — it set the stage for closing arguments Wednesday.

Neither side disputed the basic facts in their final statements to the jury. They agree that the group of teenagers smoked marijuana in a camper parked at Almandinger’s house and that some of them beat and pistol-whipped Grunwald with Almandinger’s gun, then drove him to the Butte where one of them shot Grunwald.

At issue is whether Almandinger was a “willing participant.” That’s a legal definition that, if the jury agrees, would make Almandinger just as guilty as the person who pulled the trigger.

But Almandinger’s attorney, Jon Iannaccone, said his client was not a willing participant, he was just too scared to say “no.”

“He was so scared he went along with them instead of piping up, and that continued while he was in the car,” Iannaccone told the jury. “He didn’t pipe up and say it out loud. It was in his own head. And this case is about what’s in Erick’s own head.”

Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak told the jury that seems implausible. Kalytiak said not only did Almandinger participate at every step of the way, but he thought of the others as family, idolized gang culture and partied with all of them in the days after Grunwald’s murder.

“But he was scared during that moment in time when David Grunwald was killed?” Kalytiak  said. “Does that sound sincere? Does that sound truthful, that he’s scared during that moment in time?”

David’s mother, Edie Grunwald said outside the courtroom that it had been difficult waiting nearly two years and sitting through two weeks of trial, which might only be one of several trials over her son’s slaying. But she said she has faith that her family will get justice.

“It’s hard. It’s really hard,” Edie Grunwald said. “But we’ve got a lot of support. Sometimes are harder than others, but I have confidence.”

The jury of eight women and four men will be deciding not just the murder charges, but also charges of assault, kidnapping, arson and evidence tampering.

Source: pps Alaska

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