Grunwald murder suspects

From left to right: Dominic Johnson, Bradley Renfro, Devin Peterson, Austin Barrett and Erick Almandinger in 2016.

Bradley Renfro was found guilty for the kidnapping and murder of Valley teen David Grunwald at the Fairbanks courthouse on Tuesday, Oct. 8, according to live footage shared by KTVA.

Renfro is one of four suspects charged with the assault, kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old David Grunwald in November of 2016. He is one of the last two suspects to be tried.

Erick Almandinger and Dominic Johnson were both found guilty. Austin Barrett will be the last member of the group to face trial.

Renfro was found guilty of nearly all the charges filed against him, including first-degree murder, second-degree murder, kidnapping, tampering with evidence, and vehicle theft. The only not guilty verdict was for the assault charge.

Palmer Judge Gregory Heath has presided over all the Grunwald murder suspects’ trials to date. He’s been physically present for Renfro’s trial up to this point, but had to phone in during the verdict reading on Tuesday.

Fairbanks Judge Michael MacDonald presided over the verdict reading with Heath on the line.

MacDonald excused the jury of their duty and expressed his gratitude for all the time and effort they invested in the trial.

“This is quite a service that you’ve offered the community and the state and we appreciate it,” MacDonald said. “The jury system is a beautiful thing. It’s at the heart of our system of self-government… If we believe in the jury process, the only way to give life to our own right to a jury is to serve on others when called.”

Heath made a closing statement over the phone, sharing MacDonald’s sentiment regarding the value of the jury’s service.

“I would concur that each of these jurors was extremely dedicated to this process. They were timely. They reviewed the evidence and watched the evidence; and the court does appreciate how they assisted the process,” Heath said.

Grunwald’s surviving parents Edie and Ben Grunwald attend all the court proceedings for each member of the accused group. They even made the trip to Fairbanks for Renfro’s trial. Edie and Ben were both present for Renfro’s verdict. Edie shared her reaction after the fact via text message.

“We are pleased with the verdict. The jury applied the law, the elements that were required for each charge, asked intelligent questions and came back with smart verdicts. They worked hard,” Edie said.

Renfro’s jury trial began Sept. 4, following Heath’s decision to sever his case from Barrett. The two were originally going to be tried together but Heath split their case on Aug. 22 at the Palmer Courthouse.

Renfro’s trial was moved to Fairbanks to find a more objective jury and Barrett’s case will follow suit.

On November 13, 2016, Grunwald was assaulted and pistol whipped in Almandinger’s trailer, kidnapped in his own Ford Bronco, walked through the woods off Knik River Road, and shot in the head with one fatal bullet.

Grunwald’s Bronco was burned afterwards and the trailer he was beat in was bleached to remove evidence.

Almandinger, Barrett, Johnson, and Renfro are the prime suspects and the only witnesses to the crimes that led to Grunwald’s death.

Renfro is the first member of the accused group to testify on the witness stand. His case revolved around accomplice liability. His intent on the fateful night was the subject of debate. His testimony in Fairbanks spanned over several days.

“This trial was extra stressful and difficult because the defendant testified and it added layers of complexity. While his story was plausible, the evidence did not support it,” Edie said.

Renfro’s defense attorney Chris Provost argued that Renfro was just a scared bystander while Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak argued that Renfro was a willing participant and part of the accused group of friends.

Closing arguments concluded on Friday, Oct. 4 and the jury began deliberating on Monday, Oct. 5. The jury reached their verdict Tuesday afternoon.

With Renfro’s verdict in, there’s just one more member of the accused group left to go. Barrett’s trial is currently scheduled for April 13, 2020, according to online court documents.

“It has been two years and almost 11 months. Justice has been slow coming,” Edie said.

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

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