Social media records brought in for evidence as alleged Grunwald murder accomplice stands trial

David Grunwald (Photo courtesy of Erin Grunwald)

The Palmer trial of Erick Almandinger is in its second week. Almandinger is one of several teenagers who are accused of murdering 16-year-old David Grunwald in 2016. Heather Hintze is a reporter with Anchorage TV station KTVA and has been in Palmer court every day of Almandinger’s trial. She says David Grunwald’s parents are there every day.

Hintze spoke to Alaska Public Media’s Lori Townsend, saying that jurors have heard from a range of witnesses for the prosecution.

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HINTZE: The witness testimony is varied from very emotional from Grunwald’s girlfriend to the pretty technical things. We had one of the investigators yesterday talking about how they were able to trace the phone calls and how they recovered stuff from Facebook and Snapchat. So, it runs the range of emotions throughout the days.

TOWNSEND: I wanted to ask you about that. Yesterday, there was testimony from troopers regarding deleted messages from Almandinger’s social media accounts. Tell us about what they were able to recover and what it may reveal about his actions.

HINTZE: Troopers made sure they put out a “preservation letter” to Facebook on Nov. 15 which is two days after Grunwald went missing. That meant that anything they’d ask for — I think they asked for records from Nov. 13th and 14th — that not of that stuff could be deleted. So Facebook basically took a snapshot of that and was able to email them a digital record of the conversations. And there’s a conversation at around 8:00 the night Grunwald went missing where Dominic Johnson had asked, “Hey, can you bring me that .40? Hey can you bring me the gun?” And it kind of discussed the actions that led up into the trailer. And then the investigator testified that when he did a manual search of the tablet — I think it was in December, a couple weeks later — he did a manual search of the tablet, which meant he had access to Almandinger’s Facebook account itself. And he went on and looked for those messages, and those messages had been deleted.

TOWNSEND: Heather, how would you characterize Erick Almandinger’s defense so far in this case?

HINTZE: Jon Iannaccone is his defense attorney and got up the first day of the opening statements and said, “This isn’t going to be your typical case. I’m not gonna come with some big fancy argument. I’m not gonna dispute any of the DNA evidence. I’m not gonna dispute any of the facts that troopers are saying.” He said, “I think troopers did an excellent job in this case, and we’re not arguing any of those points.” He even went to say, “my client is guilty of crimes committed after Grunwald was killed. He’s guilty of burning the Bronco, he’s guilty of lying to police.” This is what Jon Iannaccone told the jurors, that his client is guilty of those crimes. But he said Almandinger is not guilty of murder because he did not pull the trigger. “He didn’t have murder in his mind,” is kinda how he phrased it.

TOWNSEND: It seems like Palmer residents and others have really struggled with the apparent senselessness of this murder. As the trial has progressed, is there any indication as to a motive among this group of teenagers accused of killing David Grunwald?

HINTZE: There’s really nothing that I’ve been able to see from what’s come out of the evidence. You know, I talked to Edie and Ben [Grunwald, the victim’s parents] and asked, “Do you think you’ll get an answer as to why this happened?” They said no. They don’t think they’ll ever get an answer. The only thing that we can say right now from the evidence — we’re listening right now to the December 2 interview that Almandinger had with troopers. That was the day, he was arrested right after that interview; that was the day they found Grunwald’s body. and the only thing he said in that interview was that, “Dominic was mad that David Grunwald had smoked all of their weed.” The troopers say that’s why Dominic ended up pistol-whipping Grunwald, and I think troopers have said the pistol-whipping was so bad that that’s when they decided to murder him, to cover up that crime.

TOWNSEND: The trial seems to have involved an examination of the teenagers lifestyles. You talked a little bit about that with the social media aspect. The differences in their home lives, things like whether they were attending school or not or partying. What has the testimony revealed about them and who they sort of aspired to be?

HINTZE: The testimony about Almandinger has said he really glamourized or idolized Crips’ gang lifestyle. He had Google searches for blue bandanas, Crip jewelry. He even searched Etsy for unique Crips items. I think the overall thing we’re getting from a lot of these kids is there was really a lack of adult supervision. Erick Almandinger didn’t go to school regularly. It wasn’t uncommon for Erick just not to come home. He had spent that summer living in “trap houses,” or drug houses. Just a lack of adult supervision and these kids just running around doing kind of whatever they wanted.

Heather Hintze is a reporter with Anchorage station KTVA. She says closing statements could happen mid-next week, with jury deliberations expected to start by the end of the week. 

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori