Murder on Knik River Rd: Guilty on All Counts

May 31, 2018
After a nine day trial in Palmer, Alaska, Erick Almandinger was found guilty on all nine counts he was charged with. The now-18-year-old was found guilty on counts of Murder 1, Kidnapping, Murder 2 (intend injury), Murder 2 (Extreme Indifference), Murder 2 (Felony murder), tampering with evidence, vehicle theft and arson. The four counts of murder and one count of kidnapping are all unclassified felonies, which could each come with a 99 year sentence at a judge’s discretion.

Erick Almandinger Verdict (courtesy KTVA-TV)

By all measures, it had been a brutal nine days. Both of David’s parents — Edie and Ben Grunwald — had testified. They spent some time, of course, as character witnesses. But more crucial was their narrative of David’s disappearance. They were bulldogs as they searched for their missing son, even sanctioning a search on the Almandinger property. In the end, finding David alive was futile; they wore the look of profound loss on their faces. That said more than words could tell.

Edie & Ben Grunwald (testifying in the Erick Almandinger trial)

Victoria Mokelke’s tearful testimony brought home the pivotal role she played in the last hours of David’s life. Most heart-wrenching were her pleas to Erick Almandinger. Several days after David’s disappearance, she sent Almandinger a message at 4 a.m.: “I haven’t slept in days… I’m completely heartbroken and lost. I just want to know if my baby is safe,” Mokelke read, sobbing.

Victoria Mokelke (testifying in the Erick Almandinger trial)

Erick’s parents, Rodney Almandinger and Chrystal Carlson, also told jurors what they knew. Rodney’s father spent the better part of a day on the stand, trying to explain what he did — and didn’t — know. He spent most of his time admitting his complete and utter ignorance of what was happening literally beneath his nose.

L-R: Prosecuting Attorney, Roman Kalytiak; Rodney Almandinger; Chrystal Carlson

Erick’s defense attorney Jon Iannaccone, meanwhile, put forth a nearly-passive defense. In it, he declined to argue with the facts of the case as presented by the cops and prosecutors. The prosecution’s case — bolstered by physical evidence, cell phone pings, social media messages, security camera images, autopsy data and eyewitness testimony — was a strong one.

Iannaccone instead argued that Erick did not participate in the actual murder. He insisted that Erick went along with the others because he feared for his own life. In his closing argument, he went so far as to suggest that Erick’s so-called friends had used him, caring more about his pot than Erick himself.

Defense Attorney, Jon Iannaccone

Not that Iannaccone’s defense had been passive throughout. He had introduced several motions to suppress evidence, including four interviews Erick had with Alaska State Troopers, as well as pictures found on his social media accounts and photographs of Grunwald’s body taken at the crime scene. Those were all motions he lost.

For his part, Erick Almandinger barely registered in the courtroom. He maintained a blank look throughout the trial, save for a few suppressed smiles during conversations with his attorneys. His emotions, it seemed, were saved for closing arguments, when he was seen to shed a few tears. Sorry, Erick. Too late. “You needed to come home, get on your knees and say, ‘Grandma I fucked up.’”

Erick Almandinger cries during closing arguments

Sources: Anchorage Daily News, KTVA-11, KTUU, Alaska Public Media, The Frontiersman