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Young Alaska Man Gets 99 Years In Teen Friend’s 'Truly Horrific' 2016 Murder

Erick Almandinger was one of four teenagers who has been convicted for beating his high school friend, David Grunwald, to unconsciousness, kidnapping him and then shooting him to death in 2016. No motive has ever been given for the crime.

By Dorian Geiger
A missing persons photo of David Grunwald

A 22-year-old man was sentenced to nearly a century behind bars for his role in the slaying of a high school friend who was abducted and fatally shot by a group of teenagers more than five years ago.

Erick Almandinger received a 99-year prison sentence on Monday for his role the 2016 killing of 16-year-old David Grunwald, according to the the State of Alaska Department of Law. Almandinger, who was also 16 at the time, was convicted of Grunwald’s murder, kidnapping and arson. 

Dominic Johnson, Bradley Renfro and Austin Barrett — who were all teenagers at the time — were also convicted in Grunwald’s kidnapping and murder. Almandinger was the only one involved who was actually friendly with Grunwald: They two attended Colony High School together at the time, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Grunwald was smoking marijuana in a camper behind Almandinger's home on Nov. 13, 2016, when the four other boys locked him in the bathroom. When he emerged, they pistol-whipped him and then forced the partially-conscious teen into his own Ford Bronco. They drove him to Knik River — approximately 30 minutes away — walked him some distance into the woods and then fatally shot him, according to state investigators. They then burned the teenager's Ford Bronco with gas they purchased.

According to police, the four teenagers then continued their party, according to the Associated Press.

“There was something off in all four of these young people,” Palmer Superior Court Judge Gregory Heath said at Johnson’s sentencing, the newspaper reported. “I don’t know what motivated [Johnson] to do that but it was not normal. And it was flat-out scary.”

Grunwald was reported missing shortly thereafter, prompting a massive search; his burned-out truck was found the next day, according to Alaska Public Radio, but it was 19 days until Johnson led investigator's to the body in the woods, according to the AP. 

Prosecutors, who described Grunwald’s death as “truly horrific,” however, were ultimately unable to prove which teenager pulled the trigger. There was no apparent motive in the 16-year-old’s murder.

“David Grunwald was a 16-year-old boy who was deeply loved by his family and friends, whose lives have been shattered by their loss and the haunting thoughts of what David endured the last hours of his life,” Palmer District Attorney Melissa Howard also said. “The sentence imposed is reflective of the senseless brutality of the crime and the calculated steps the defendants took to cover it up.”

During his sentencing, Almandinger claimed responsibility for his friend’s murder.

“He was my friend,” Almandinger said, the Anchorage Daily News reported. “He was a good kid. And I killed my friend. That’s what happened. I killed somebody’s nephew. I killed somebody’s son. I destroyed somebody’s family.”

He also apologized to Grunwald’s family.

”I’m sure the words coming out of my mouth are irrelevant to them,” Almandinger added. “But if it means anything I am sorry. I’m sorry for what I did. I’m sorry for what I didn’t do.” 

Grunwald’s mother described Almandinger as the “ringleader” of the pack that killed her son, per the Anchorage Daily News. His father was no more forgiving.

“I don’t come here seeking justice today,” Ben Grunwald, told the court. “I come here seeking punishment.”

Almandinger was the third of the four former teenagers accused in Grunwald’s death to be sentenced. Johnson was also sentenced to 99 years on first-degree murder charges in Grunwald’s death with 20 suspended and another 20 tacked on for the kidnapping and other charges. Barrett, who was found guilty at trial of second-degree murder, received a 45-year sentence. Renfro was convicted of first-degree murder and his sentencing was expected to get underway this week.

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