Austin Barrett

WASILLA — Austin Barrett, one of four suspects in the David Grunwald murder trial, had his sentencing hearing delayed to Nov. 20 during a livestreamed court proceeding from the Palmer Courthouse.

“Today kind of caught everybody by surprise,” David’s mother Edie Grunwald.

While a number of people were able to view the video from YouTube, many others experienced technical difficulties, according to court staff. The video was also taken down after the hearing.

“The funny thing about the YouTube [channel], since it belongs to the court, they can take it right back down. That’s exactly what they did,” Grunwald said.

The official YouTube channel for Palmer Superior Court Judge Gregory Heath has an empty video file on the page currently, stating the video will go live Nov. 20.

According to Grunwald, Barrett’s defense lawyer, Craig Howard was out of state during the scheduled hearing Thursday, Nov. 12.

“He didn’t want his client on video without him. He should have been here,” Grunwald said.

Grunwald said that Howard was distressed over the use of livestreaming and the potential of people downloading the video.

“He came unglued, saying he didn’t want his client on YouTube. He didn’t want it out there for the world, and all this stuff. And it’s like, everything else has been recorded by the media. Every second of it was uploaded… including all the prior stuff before Barrett,” Grunwald said. “It made no sense whatsoever… Help us figure out what you’re not understanding.”

For Grunwald, this was just another unnecessary delay involving multiple cases over the last four years. She said that Friday’s hearing was intended to include victim impact statements.

“This is the third time they’ve done this to us,” Grunwald said.

Grunwald said that Barrett has a statement prepared for his upcoming hearing. She said that she and her husband Ben have a statement of their own, not being present in the room while Barrett is speaking.

Grunwald said that she’s expecting Judge Heath to hand down a 65 year sentence with 45 years to serve.

Barrett is the last of four suspects to face trial for the assault, kidnapping and subsequent murder of Grunwald Nov. 13, 2016.

Erick Almandinger, Dominic Johnson and Bradley Renfro have all been convicted of first-degree murder in the Grunwald trial.

Almandinger was the first of the four to be convicted for Grunwald’s murder. A Fairbanks jury found Renfro guilty on eight of the nine charges, including murder. However, Renfro was found not guilty on the assault charges.

Austin Barrett pleaded guilty to second-degree murder at the Palmer Courthouse, Feb. 5. He’s facing a 65-year sentence with 20 years suspended, 45 years to serve, and 10 years of probation.

Barrett’s plea followed a resolution agreement between his defense attorney, Craig Howard, and Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak.

Barrett’s case was originally tied to Renfro’s but their cases were ultimately split in August of 2019.

“It’s a good thing that all of them were split… It was appropriate,” Grunwald said.

Nov. 13 wasn’t just supposed to be the second day of Barrett’s sentencing hearing. It’s also marked the fourth anniversary of David’d murder. His surviving parents have been in and out of the court house these last four years.

“It’s been miserable. Every time we go back... it just opens everything up,” Edie Grunwald said.

Grunwald said that she’s thankful for all the widespread support from locals and beyond they’ve had during their fight for justice. She said their Facebook page Justice for David Grunwald has about 13,000 followers, and she receives messages from community members on a regular basis, sharing her frustrations and sending her kind word of encouragement.

“We’re just at the mercy of the court,” Grunwald said.

Barrett’s sentencing hearing is now scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 20 at the Palmer Courthouse. The hearing is set to be livestreamed again and no members of the public are allowed inside the courtroom unless special requests are made and approved.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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