PALMER — Austin Barrett, one of four young men charged with the kidnapping, assault and subsequent murder of 16-year-old David Grunwald listened to the audio recording of his first interview with Alaska State Troopers with the rest of the courtroom during his evidentiary hearing Thursday, Dec. 12.
“I think it’s important for the court not just to read it but to hear it,” Palmer Judge Gregory Heath said.
Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak interviewed one of the main investigators in the Grunwald case, Lt. Mike Ingram, before and after playing the audio file for the first of two interviews. Kalytiak joined troopers in the second interview at his office just after their initial interview at the Palmer Post in December of 2016.
“With today and Monday, we’ll be able to get through all of it,” Kalytiak said.
Ingram was one of two troopers that detained Barrett at the Fishhook Foodmart following Grunwald’s disappearance and group member Erick Almandinger’s arrest. Ingram also could be heard on the audio file with lead investigator Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn questioning Barrett regarding his involvement with Grunwald’s disappearance and murder Nov. 13, 2016.
“You already know we know everything,” Wegrzyn told Barrett in the audio. “I already know you were there… You’re literally the last person to tell their story… The question is why and how did you get involved?”
Barrett was the last of the main suspects brought in for questioning. His interview occurred days after fellow group member Dominic Johnson helped troopers locate Grunwald’s body off Knik River Road Dec. 2, 2016.
During the interview, Barrett attempted to distance himself from the events, initially stating he wasn’t present in the trailer or at the scene of Grunwald’s murder.
“You’re a terrible liar,” Wegrzyn told Barrett during the interview.
At this point, troopers narrowed down the four major suspects who were present during Grunwald’s assault and pistol whipping in Almandinger’s trailer, kidnapping in his own Ford Bronco, his fatal gunshot to the head, and subsequent burning of the Bronco in the Wasilla area.
“… He was with the group,” Ingram told Kalytiak.
During Ingram’s testimony, he indicated he and other troopers were aware of Barrett and his associations prior to his December of 2016 interview for Grunwald’s murder investigation. Ingram said that troopers had contacted Barrett at least three times beforehand.
“There were some things I noticed that I noticed Austin Barrett was involved with, just off the top of my head that I recall while looking at all the individuals in this investigation,” Ingram said on the witness stand Thursday. “I was aware that we had contact with Mr. Barrett on numerous occasions, collectively speaking.”
Barrett was questioned regarding 16-year-old Frankie Woodford’s death investigation. Barrett was present at the household where Woodford received a fatal gunshot wound.
Barrett was also questioned regarding a robbery of a man who attempted to solicit sex from an underage female, where the man was jumped and robbed.
Barrett was interviewed again regarding a burglary involving stolen guns and a watch from Johnson’s grandfather’s house.
Evidence from previous trials revealed social media images of Barrett posing with the stolen watch on his wrist. During Barrett’s initial interview, he told Ingram and Wegrzyn that he didn’t’ steal the watch, that he simply wore it for a period of time.
“I thought it looked dope,” Barrett said in the recording.
Wegrzyn was not present for the evidentiary hearing. Kalytiak said that Wegrzyn was away for special training but would be available for the proceedings next week. Barrett’s defense attorney Craig Howard said that he will need further testimony from Wegrzyn regarding the interview.
“He’s going to be a lengthy witness for me,” Howard said.
Barrett is the last of the four group members in the Grunwald case to face trial. Almandinger, Bradley Renfro and Johnson were all found guilty for murder, kidnapping, assault, and evidence tampering.
The remainder of the evidentiary hearing will resume Monday, Dec. 23 and continue through the week.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org