BREAKING NEWS: Dominic Johnson was found guilty on all charges on Thursday. The 12-person jury convicted Johnson of Murder 1, Kidnapping, three counts of Murder 2, Tampering with Evidence, Assault 1, Vehicle Theft and Arson. The jury began deliberations the morning of Thursday, December 27 and took just one day to convict Johnson on all charges for his role in the murder of Palmer teen David Grunwald on November 13, 2016.
PALMER — A Palmer jury on Thursday afternoon convicted Dominic Johnson of all charges for his role in the 2016 murder of fellow Valley teen David Grunwald.
On Wednesday, the jury heard closing arguments from both sides.
For the first time in a trial that spanned two major holidays and a natural disaster, Dominic Johnson’s Defense Attorney Lyle Stohler began to poke holes in the prosecution’s case. Were the heroics on the last day of trial enough, though? Following the closing arguments from both the District Attorney Roman Kalytiak and Stohler, the jury was cut down to 12. The 12 jurors will begin deliberations at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday and continue indefinitely until the jury can make unanimous decisions on the guilt of Dominic Johnson.
Stohler argued that Johnson was guilty, but not of the crime he is being tried for. Stohler agreed that Johnson beat David Grunwald, helped put him into his own Ford Bronco and helped burn the Bronco. However, Stohler pleaded to the jury that the Assault charge be downgraded to Assault 2. Stohler argued that the injuries Johnson gave to Grunwald were not serious. While Kalytiak argued that Johnson was the catalyst and came up with the plan to beat Grunwald ahead of time, Stohler repeated one phrase over and over to the jury.
“Dominic Johnson didn’t want David Grunwald killed that night,” Stohler said. “Because Dominic Johnson never wanted David Grunwald dead, he helped Troopers locate the body.”
Stohler, who had mostly let Kalytiak lead the questioning for much of the trial, began to make explanations for where Dominic Johnson was on the night of November 13, 2016. Cell phone data shows a 30 minute gap in communications from Johnson’s phone between 9:05 p.m. and 9:35 p.m. The state argued that Johnson turned his phone off to commit the murder. Stohler argued that Johnson got out of the car before crossing the Knik River Bridge and started walking.
“There are no points moving east or west on Knik River Road where David Grunwald was killed. The reason he’s not present is because Dominic Johnson didn’t want David Grunwald killed that night,” Stohler said.
Stohler argued that the reason Johnson took so long to locate the body of Grunwald on December 2, 2016, when he cooperated with Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Tony Wegrzyn, was because he was not present at the time of the murder. Stohler argues that Troopers trusted cell phone data at many times throughout the investigation, including sending dogs to search prior to the discovery of Grunwald’s body using cell phone locations from Johnson as a starting point. Stohler even used the prosecution’s own evidence to try and poke holes in their case. Stohler presented state’s exhibit 199 created by Trooper Nathan Bucknall and claimed that when Trooper Ramin Dunford presented similar cell phone data later in the case, they actually contradicted each other.
“Do they just not like the conclusion that Dominic Johnson was not on Knik River Road? When a piece of evidence doesn’t fit into their version of events, they try and change it. This is just like the video tape,” Stohler said.
Stohler continued to rail against the tactics and evidence used by the prosecution, claiming that the infamous video tape submitted late in the trial could not be used as evidence because it was recorded prior to the murder. Stohler made repeated mentions to what the state’s prosecution must do to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Stohler made claims that Grunwald would have fully recovered with no major damage from the beating he took in the trailer, had he not been murdered that night. Stohler claimed that Johnson could not have been present for the murder, and pointed to the fact that Johnson asked Devin Peterson for the murder weapon more than two weeks after the murder.
“Why would he want xdm if he knew it was used in the murder?” Stohler said.
Stohler repeatedly returned to the cell phone evidence presented by the state.
“What 16 year old turns off their phone?” Stohler asked.
Stohler claimed that if the state wanted to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the phone had been turned off, they would have taken the phone, which was seized, to Knik River Road to prove it. Stohler made innumerable objections during the trial, many of which centered around the state’s characterization of the group as a gang. Stohler gave the jury a history lesson on the neck tie, that had originally been worn in war by Croatian mercenaries serving a French king. Both Stohler and Kalytiak wore neckties when presenting their closing arguments, and Stohler argued that the clothing carried no significance. Stohler pleaded with the jury to not allow the evidence to evoke an emotional response from them. He claimed that the state was using the word torture to get a response from ‘here,’ and pointed to his heart. Stohler asked the jury to use the reliable physical evidence of cell phone data and the medical examiner's testimony and not to let their emotions help them make a decision.
Kalytiak began his closing arguments with a metaphor, telling the jury that he was going to guide them through a forest of evidence and jury instructions. Kalytiak mentioned several hardships that occurred during the duration of the trial, including difficulty in getting key witnesses to the stand.
“This is our attempt to search for the closest thing to the truth,” Kalytiak said.
Kalytiak also used cell phone data and physical evidence to try to convince the jury of Johnson’s guilt, but in a different fashion. Kalytiak said that his closing arguments centered around the admission of the video late in the trial that had been uncovered from snapchat on not one, but two different cell phones of Johnson’s acquaintances more than two years after they were sent.
Kalytiak argued that the recording of Johnson, in which he is heard saying ‘In the head, as hard as I can, just to try to hurt him, just to try to f****** hurt him,’ is an admission of his state of mind on November 13, 2016. The video recovered from Andrea Cullington’s snapchat account puts the recording just four hours prior to the time of the murder.
“It was all Dominic Johnson and it was to show that he was violent enough to be in this gang. I’m not talking about the crips,” Kalytiak said.
Kalytiak argued that Johnson had intent to hurt another human being, and mentioned several other members of the group that had no part in the beating or the murder.
“It is absolutely no coincidence that the defendant is talking about hitting on the head as hard as he could and then three hours later this same thing same exact conduct happens,” Kalytiak said.
Kalytiak also used the autopsy photos of Grunwald as evidence to try to convince the jury that Johnson was guilty. Kalytiak reminded the jury that 17 injuries to the hands and arms were sustained when Grunwald tried to shield himself. Grunwald suffered seven injuries to the head. Kalytiak, prior to Stohler’s claim that Johnson was not present at the time of the murder, poked his own hole, reminding the jury that a person that aids or abets the commission of a crime need not be present at the scene of the crime. Kalytiak detailed each of the four crime scenes and various communications between Johnson and other members of the group.
“This group not living teenager lifestyle. You’ve seen in photographs, testimony, they were doing whatever the hell they wanted to do,” Kalytiak said.
Kalytiak reminded the jury that statutes of liability does not place singular importance on who pulled the trigger, and that they may never know who actually shot David Grunwald, but that each of the four teenagers supported the common purpose and encouraged the crime.
David’s parents, Ben and Edie, sat in the spot they have watched the entire trial, save for the autopsy photos from. They were separated by their late son’s girlfriend. Another pair of parents who fought for justice following crimes against their child, Butch and Cindy Moore, joined in the Gallery for the last half of closing arguments.
Kalytiak ended his slide show of incriminating evidence and communications with a simple photo of David and his girlfriend.
“This is a picture of what happiness was,” Kalytiak said.