A Fairbanks trial opened Wednesday for one of five people charged in connection with a 2016 Palmer murder case.
Bradley J. Renfro, 18, is one of four people charged with killing 16-year-old David Grunwald, who was beaten and shot in November 2016. The fifth was charged with hindering prosecution and tampering with evidence.
Renfro’s trial was moved to Fairbanks following the publicity around two other trials in the case. Grunwald is the son of Edie Grunwald, a retired Air Force colonel and 2018 candidate for lieutenant governor.
Renfro is charged with first-degree murder and three counts of second-degree murder. He is also charged with assault, kidnapping, tampering with physical evidence, vehicle theft and arson.
Renfro was arrested, along with Dominic Johnson, Erick Almandinger, Austin Barrett and Devin Peterson, following Grunwald’s disappearance and the discovery of his body in late 2016. Johnson, Almandinger, Barrett and Renfro were arrested on murder charges. Peterson was charged with the lesser crimes.
Grunwald was reported missing on Nov. 13, 2016, and the burned remains of his 1995 Ford Bronco were found the next day. On Dec. 2, Johnson led investigators to Grunwald’s body.
Johnson and Almandinger were both tried by Palmer juries, which convicted Almandinger on all counts in May 2018 and Johnson on all counts in December.
Opening arguments in Renfro’s trial began Wednesday in front of Superior Court Judge Gregory Heath, who presided over the other trials, and a Fairbanks jury.
Renfro’s attorney, Chris Provost, and Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak debated during opening statements whether or not Renfro was a willing participant in Grunwald’s beating and subsequent shooting.
Kalytiak began opening statements with an account of how Grunwald spent his day with his girlfriend, Victoria Mokelke, and his mother before eating dinner with them and his father, then taking Mokelke to her father’s house.
On the way over, Grunwald was contacted by another person, 19-year-old David Evans, who wanted a ride to Almandinger’s house, a few blocks from Mokelke’s mother’s house, where Grunwald would take her to get her clothes before driving her to her father’s house.
“So David Grunwald knew he would be in the area anyways, so he told David Evans no problem,” Kalytiak said.
Grunwald and Mokelke picked up Evans on the Palmer Wasilla Highway, then Grunwald dropped off Mokelke before dropping off Evans at Almandinger’s house, where Kalytiak said Evans told Grunwald he should come back to hang out.
When he dropped Mokelke off, Kalytiak said, Grunwald told her he may hang out at Almandinger’s before returning home.
Kalytiak stated Renfro was present both in the camper at Almandinger’s house where Grunwald is alleged to have been beaten and when Grunwald was killed, that Renfro suggested they kill Grunwald at a section of the Mat-Su Valley called Jim Creek and that he participated in the burning of Grunwald’s vehicle after he had been killed.
Kalytiak said the evidence will show “this was an intentional plan, a unanimous decision and a group effort of Johnson, Almandinger, Austin Barrett and this defendant Bradley Renfro” to attack and kill Grunwald.
Provost did not argue Renfro was in the camper but said his client was afraid “he would be disappeared” like Grunwald if he acted against the group.
“We concede, we do not deny, that Bradley Renfro was present,” he said.
Provost also accepted that Renfro helped burn Grunwald’s vehicle after the fact.
However, Provost argued Renfro was not involved in the plan to beat Grunwald, as Renfro did not have a cellphone at the time and the group could not talk in the camper, only text. He also denied Renfro knew Grunwald was going to be killed.
The trial continues Thursday.
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/FDNMlocal