WASILLA — Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak made his closing arguments in Bradley Renfro’s trial Thursday afternoon in the Fairbanks Courthouse.
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. Renfro spent six days testifying on the witness stand.
“This is important, because he took the stand,” Kalytiak said Thursday during the trial, which has been live streamed courtesy of KTVA.
Kalytiak questioned Renfro’s credibility as a witness throughout his cross-examinations.
“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.
With the time nearing for the jury to deliberate, Kalytiak’s closing argument centered on Renfro’s lack of credibility and close association with the accused group, despite Renfro’s 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, he said on the witness stand.
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 near 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 in 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 burden of proof is on them 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.
Renfro’s defense attorney Chris Provost will make his closing argument Friday morning and the state will be able to rebuttal before the case goes to the jury.
Contact Mat-Su Valley reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org.