WASILLA — On Friday, both the closing arguments concluded for Bradley Renfro’s trial in Fairbanks for the murder of Palmer teen David Grunwald and the final jury was narrowed down for deliberation, 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.
Erick Almandinger and Dominic Johnson have already been convicted. Renfro and Austin Barrett are the last two to face trial.
Renfro was the first one of the group to testify. He spent nearly a week testifying on the witness stand.
State’s closing argument
Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak gave his closing argument Thursday. He questioned Renfro’s credibility as a witness throughout his cross-examinations and kept hammering his “morphing” stories during his closing statements.
“I know the defendant is saying he wasn’t one of the bad guys. I heard him say that and he says we’ve got to take his word on that,” Kalytiak said.
Kalytiak’s closing argument centered on Renfro’s lack of credibility and close association with the accused group despite his efforts to distance himself from them during his testimony.
“This is basically our case in a nutshell… A lot of lies in this case. We’ve narrowed it down. We know who was present in all of these crimes. The beat down, the kidnapping, the ride to Knik River Road, the murder. It’s just those four people,” Kalytiak said. “He puts himself at all the scenes… with his buddies.”
Renfro’s guilt or innocence rests on accomplice liability. His defense attorney has argued that Renfro was a scared bystander and that’s why he lied during his interviews with Alaska State Troopers.
Kalytiak argued the opposite. He said that Renfro was a willing participant and his party heavy, gangster imitating actions before and after the murder illustrates his lack of remorse and it shows a lack of fear from the group.
“We’ve shown you the documentation that they were super tight… good friends, hung out all the time,” Kalytiak said.
Kalytiak also stressed the fact that Renfro incriminated himself with several statements that infer he was an active part of the course of actions that ultimately led to Grunwald’s death. Kalytiak said that Renfro confirmed that he “helped” load Grunwald into the Bronco and even suggested remote places they could take him to.
Renfro’s argument for the suggested sites like Jim Creek was for Grunwald’s benefit, an apparent plan to cause the group to get cold feet since the area is a popular site for outdoor recreation.
Kalytiak got the opposite impression from Renfro’s claim. He argued that Renfro’s suggestion actually makes him an aider and abettor. He said that Renfro confirmed that once he knew Grunwald would be killed, he suggested Coal Hills (Sutton) and Jim Creek; and the reason he suggested places like that was not for Grunwald’s benefit, but for lower chances of getting caught.
The ultimate location for Grunwald’s demise was off a trail near Knik River Road.
“He was taken to a place that was totally dark without any people, and it sure made it a lot easier for him to be murdered without any witnesses to see it; and they accomplished that. You can tell from our trial… the only witnesses are Bradley Renfro and his friends: Erick Almandinger, Austin Barrett and Dominic Johnson,” Kalytiak said.
Kalytiak said that one of the most “emotionally troubling” aspects to the story of Grunwald’s last night was his kidnapping, the 20- to 40-minute drive his own Ford Bronco with all four members of the group to Knik River Road and the “death march” in the woods where he was shot and killed with one bullet.
“There was no doubt in anybody’s mind… what was gonna happen… when they got into the Bronco,” Kalytiak said. “We all know from the evidence, there was no mercy shown.”
The ultimate question the jury will have to answer is Renfro’s intent surrounding the course of events that ultimately led to Grunwald’s death. Kalytiak said the state has some theories for the motive but they don’t have to prove the motive.
He said the state has burden of proof to show Renfro was an accomplice to the various crimes, from the brutal assault and pistol whipping in Almandinger’s camper to the kidnapping and transport to Knik River Road where Grunwald was surrounded by the group and executed.
Renfro was 16 at the time of the murder, the same age as Grunwald. Kalytiak told the jury that despite some broad leniency society tends to give teenagers — be it for skipping class or experimenting with drugs— no matter the age, some acts cross the “societal line in the sand.”
“They crossed that line in the sand. That’s what our case is about,” Kalytiak said.
Defense’s closing argument
The court picked up on Friday to hear Renfro’s defense attorney Chris Provost make his closing argument.
Provost said this was the “final lap” and he stressed that legal fact that the burden of proof falls on the state. He argued that state has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Renfro was an accomplice when the accused group [Almandinger, Johnson, and Barrett] kidnapped and murdered Grunwald.
“….You don’t have accomplice liability and yet, the state is arguing that you should find beyond a reasonable doubt that that’s what they proved,” Provost said.
Provost claimed that Renfro’s actions including assisting Grunwald into the Bronco and suggesting places to go were not enough to pin him as accomplice. He argued that Renfro had “zero knowledge” of what was planned or what would happen.
“It’s not there for kidnapping or the murder except for looking at two acts: helping David get out to the Bronco and then suggesting where they should go,” Provost said. “Convict him of murder 1 beyond a reasonable doubt, for that?”
Provost said that Renfro’s actions were motivated out of fear because he was worried Barrett and/or the others would harm him for “snitching.”
“He has to keep reassuring them he didn’t snitch anybody out,” Provost said.
Provost reminded the jury of their oath and legal duties. He encouraged them to use all their faculties when deliberating the case.
“This case is about, for you, when you walk away at this point in time, is about credibility. We know Bradley Renfro was not credible and he has admitted all the lies and omissions. Did he have to come and testify like this for five days in front of you, and go through that?” Provost said. “Keep each other strong. Talk about it. Listen to each other. Find out what makes sense.”
Provost concluded by saying his client was 16 years old when the crimes happened.
“This proceeding, whatever happens is not going to bring closure to the Grunwalds. There is no justice for David; but there is another young man now today, but at the time, another child as David was also referred to, who is hoping that you will provide justice for him,” Provost said.
After Provost concluded, Kalytiak shot back with his rebuttal. He kept notes during Provost’s closing argument and addressed the key statements he made.
“The bottom line is: they didn’t care about David. They threw him out…” Kalytiak said.
Kalytiak said Renfro’s testimony or the “fourth story” was a last ditch effort to distance himself from the group who was actually “tight knit” before and after the murder, and it was only after they were starting to get arrested when the finger pointing began.
“He knew they had guns. He knew their lifestyle,” Kalytiak said.
Kalytiak told the jury that he agreed that justice was an “elusive concept.” He said that Grunwald’s surviving family and close ones have been put through immeasurable and pain and suffering that won’t go away.
“David Grunwald is gone forever. What happened with him was one of the most horrible things to happen in the history of mankind and the history of Alaska,” Kalytiak said. “In terms of justice, you [the jury] must have the final say… You have some choices here. Number one, what is obvious… what happened according to the evidence. Or, you can buy his [Renfro’s] story after all his lies, after all his deception, after all the evidence cover up, you can buy his story in this trial that he was the good guy, that he didn’t do anything. He was forced by his buddies…”
Once Kalytiak finished his rebuttal, Palmer Judge Gregory Heath read the final jury instructions. Alternate jurors were selected and court proceedings concluded for the day.
The jury can choose to deliberate over the weekend if they desire but there will be no official verdict while court is closed.
Contact Mat-Su Valley reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org