Five teenagers face adult charges for Palmer murder

(Photo courtesy of Erin Grunwald)
(Photo courtesy of Erin Grunwald)

A group of Mat-Su teenagers, ranging from sixteen to nineteen years of age, were arraigned in state Superior Court in Palmer Tuesday, in relation to the disturbing kidnap and murder case of another Valley teen, David Grunwald. All five will be charged as adults.

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Wearing prison yellow and linked together by chains, the five made their first court appearance Tuesday in Palmer.

Various attorneys for the five teens entered “not guilty” pleas, while Judge Kari Kristiansen set pre-trial and trial dates. No bail was set for four of the defendants.

Those four –  Erick Almandinger, Bradley Renfro, Dominic Johnson, all 16-years-old, and 19-year-old Austin Barrett – are charged with six counts of first and second degree murder, kidnapping and hindering prosecution, among other charges. They will be tried together. The fifth teen, 18-year-old Devin Peterson, was indicted separately. Peterson is charged with three counts of evidence tampering, and hindering prosecution, and will be tried alone. Peterson’s bail was set at $100,000.

The case has sobered many residents of the rural Matanuska Valley. In November, 16-year-old high school student David Grunwald was reported missing. His body was located December 2 in woods along the Knik River. He had been shot to death, a medical examiner’s report confirmed, but before that he was badly beaten.

Renee royal and family members hold signs at vigil for David Grunwald on Friday (Photo by Ellen Lockyer, Alaska Public Media- Anchorage)
Renee royal and family members hold signs at vigil for David Grunwald on Friday (Photo by Ellen Lockyer, Alaska Public Media- Anchorage)

Almandinger was arrested on December 3. The other four defendants were taken in on December 9, about the same time hundreds had gathered at the Palmer fairgrounds for a candlelight prayer vigil for the murdered Grunwald.

Family and friends of both Grunwald and the defendants pressed into the courtroom Tuesday to witness the brief proceedings. Most declined to speak to the press, but Damien Peterson, from Anchorage, stepped forward

“Yeah, Devin’s my little brother,” Peterson said. “It’s a lot to take in right now. I really don’t think his bail should be $100K, that’s crazy. He doesn’t really have an involvement.”

Devin Peterson has been charged with evidence tampering in relation to two guns incidental to the case and in allegedly destroying evidence, in this case Grunwald’s Ford Bronco, which was found burned near Wasilla a day after the victim went missing.

A grand jury indictment filed last week indicates at least four of the defendants “knowingly engaged in conduct that resulted in the death of David Grunwald under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life.” Almandinger’s attorney, Hannah Thoreston Barre, said not guilty pleas are standard for felony arraignments. Judge Kristiansen has set a January 13 pre-trial conference date and a February 21 trial date for Almandinger, Johnson, Renfro and Barrett. Peterson’s pretrial hearing is set for January 20 and his trial date is February 27.