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PROVO — Prosecutors say two weeks before Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Cory Wride was shot and killed by Jose Angel Garcia-Juaregui, Garcia pulled a gun on his girlfriend's father.
On Tuesday, a judge ruled that jurors will be allowed to hear that story during the upcoming aggravated murder trial of Garcia's girlfriend, 18-year-old Meagan Grunwald.
Grunwald faces 12 charges in connection with Wride's death. She was 17 when she and Garcia, 27, allegedly led police on a Jan. 30, 2014, crime spree that started with Wride's death and continued with the shooting of another deputy, Greg Sherwood, in Santaquin. That was followed by a carjacking in Nephi and shots fired at pursuing officers on I-15 before Garcia was killed in a final gun battle south of Nephi.
Although prosecutors say Garcia fired all of the shots, they contend that Grunwald was a willing participant who was behind the wheel and continued to follow her boyfriend even when she had the chance to run from him.
Grunwald, however, said she was compelled under threats of violence to her and her family if she did not go along with what Garcia told her to do.
Of eight motions considered Tuesday, 4th District Judge Darold McDade ruled on four of them and two others were resolved among attorneys.
In the first motion, McDade said he would allow birthday cards, pictures, videos, Facebook posts and other notes written to and from Grunwald and Garcia to establish that the two had a close bond. Prosecutors argued those items are evidence of her intent and motive and they countered claims by the defense that Grunwald only went along with what Garcia said because she was compelled.
The defense unsuccessfully argued that the frequent use of the f-word would prejudice a jury and create bias against their client.
In a second motion, the judge denied a request to allow a phone conversation Garcia allegedly had with his uncle in Texas after shooting Wride. Garcia reportedly told him in Spanish, "I'm with my girlfriend's people, they are protecting me."
Prosecutors argued the statement is evidence of a joint criminal venture between Garcia and Grunwald. The defense successfully argued, however, that not only did the statement lack foundation, but it was in Spanish, so because of a lack of a translator present it was hearsay on top of hearsay.
McDade said he would reconsider the issue if the uncle is brought to Utah to testify. Prosecutors said they were still considering what to do.
In a third motion, the judge agreed to allow prosecutors to tell the jury about an incident approximately two weeks before the shooting in which Garcia got into a fight with Grunwald's father and allegedly pulled a gun on him. The state says the incident shows that Grunwald chose to stick with Garcia even though he had threatened her father.
The defense countered that the issue will likely become a "trial within a trial" as they dispute the claim that a gun was pulled. Defense attorneys noted that only Grunwald's father was arrested that day and that Garcia would have been arrested for parole violation if he had a weapon. Prosecutors countered that Garcia was already gone by the time police arrived and the case was probably still under investigation at the time of Garcia's death.
Deputy Utah County attorney Sam Pead believes that episode will be a key piece of evidence.
The judge also agreed not to admit evidence from a blood test drawn from Grunwald at the end of the shootout based on one criteria. However, the motion remained unresolved Tuesday because of a question over whether a search warrant affidavit was written properly to obtain Grunwald's blood. A separate hearing will be held on March 13 to address that issue. A hearing on two other motions dealing with drug evidence seized from Grunwald's safe and statements made by her friends will be argued in a hearing on March 30.
Overall, Pead said he was pleased with Tuesday's decisions. Other than the confrontation with the father, he couldn't really say if one piece of evidence is going to be more valuable than another.
I guess everything that comes in or doesn't come in affects the case to a degree. But this case is more of a totality. So we go forward with the best evidence we have. Every murder case has evidence excluded or admitted that affects the outcome. It's hard to speculate what jurors are going to find important. Sometimes things we argue at length over means nothing to them and other things they find significant.
–Sam Pead, Deputy Utah County Attorney
"I guess everything that comes in or doesn't come in affects the case to a degree. But this case is more of a totality. So we go forward with the best evidence we have. Every murder case has evidence excluded or admitted that affects the outcome," he said. "It's hard to speculate what jurors are going to find important. Sometimes things we argue at length over means nothing to them and other things they find significant."
Defense attorney Dean Zabriskie repeated his arguments that Grunwald was a victim.
"We have to keep in context, she was a 16-, 17-year-old girl in that car. The fact that they're trying her as an adult does not change the fact that this is an immature, well, we characterize her as a child. What does it take to scare a child out of her wits? What does it take? A gun pointed at you? A threat? I don't know. I'll leave that up to a jury. I mean, they can argue around it all they want, but the fact is she was scared to death," Zabriskie said. "Whatever she did, she was compelled by threat of violence."
Tuesday's hearing was packed with family and friends of Wride, including his widow, Nanette Wride. She said she is not frustrated by the number of court hearings that are being added before the actual trial.
"It's not about me. I want everything to be done right. We don't want any appeals or anything like that. I think with patience, everything will work out right and be done right," she said.
When asked if she believes Grunwald is just as culpable as Garcia, she said: "Absolutely. She's just as responsible as Garcia was, yes."
Grunwald's parents were also present for Tuesday's hearing but left the courthouse without comment.
Grunwald is charged with aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and felony discharge of a firearm with serious bodily injury, all first-degree felonies. In addition, she is charged with criminal mischief, a second-degree felony; two counts of felony discharge of a firearm, possession or use of a controlled substance, and failure to respond to an officer's signal to stop, third-degree felonies; criminal mischief, a class A misdemeanor; and violation of operator duties for accident involving property damage, a class B misdemeanor.
Her trial is scheduled to begin April 28.