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Teen on trial in Utah deputy's death is a victim, attorney says

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PROVO — Meagan Grunwald's life was falling apart when she got into her truck with her boyfriend, a man who until that point had been loving to her despite their age difference, her attorney said Wednesday.

They argued. Crying, Grunwald pulled to the side of state Route 73 in Eagle Mountain. Concerned about being hit by other cars, she turned on her emergency lights in the cold, foggy air. It wasn't until after a kind police officer stopped and asked whether they were all right that the then-17-year-old saw her boyfriend's gun.

"This is not a ne'er-do-well juvenile delinquent just waiting to break the law," defense attorney Dean Zabriskie told the eight-woman, two-man jury Wednesday, as he described the day that would eventually lead to the death of Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Cory Wride.

Rather than an accomplice, defense attorneys argue that Grunwald — a young and simple girl with a dysfunctional upbringing — is a forgotten victim who found herself threatened by her boyfriend in the wild car chase and series of shootings that followed.

But prosecutors painted a different picture of Grunwald, telling jurors that she was deeply committed to 27-year-old Jose Angel Garcia-Juaregui and willingly stayed with him that day, driving aggressively in an attempt to escape with him even as he opened fire on officers.

"They were inseparable," Juab County prosecutor AnnMarie Howard said. "He was her everything."

As a willing accomplice, Grunwald is just as responsible for what happened that day, including Wride's death, as Garcia-Juaregui was, Howard said.

The violent events of Jan. 30, 2014, resulted in Wride's death, the wounding of another officer and ultimately ended in a gun battle and the death of Grunwald's boyfriend.

"At one time she thought about jumping out of the car. She laments that she didn't," Zabriskie said of his client.

Grunwald, now 18, wept during Wednesday's opening statements of the trial against her. Grunwald faces 10 felony charges and two misdemeanors for her suspected role in the dangerous chase, including first-degree felony charges of aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder.

Who is Meagan Grunwald?

To understand how she got there, the defense asked jurors to place themselves "in the skin of Meagan Grunwald," especially when she testifies later in the trial.

Grunwald is the only child of two parents with disabilities, both with their own mental deficiencies, who found strength in their daughter, Zabriskie said. To a child, the burden of caring for her parents was sometimes heavy, and Grunwald had her own struggles. She excelled at raising livestock in Future Farmers of America, but she had difficulties reading and fell behind in school, he said.

Friends recommended Garcia-Juaregui, who was living with them after being released from prison, as a tutor. Despite his criminal record, they found him to be charming and kind, Zabriskie said. They distanced themselves, however, when they realized he was pursuing a relationship with the underage girl.

Grunwald's parents, too, were initially happy to have Garcia-Juaregui around, according to Zabriskie. He moved in, with an agreement he would pay rent and sleep on the couch. He brought the family food and was helpful around the house. He helped Grunwald with her homework, and she helped him get a job.

Tensions rose in the home, however. Arguments ensued when Garcia-Juaregui began sleeping in Grunwald's bedroom. Her parents were preparing to separate, and the teen planned to move to St. George with her mother, Zabriskie said. Garcia-Juaregui had become aggressive, had introduced her to drugs, and Grunwald had discovered he was involved with other women.


Grunwald wanted out, the attorney told jurors. But she agreed to go for a drive with Garcia-Juaregui. She didn't know he had a gun, that a warrant had been issued for him, or why he lied about his name when Wride stopped to check on them. She complied instinctively when Garcia-Juaregui told her to put her foot on the brake and was suddenly deafened when he opened the back window and began to shoot.

"Unexpected, unplanned, unforeseeable, she is now subjected to two hours of horror," Zabriskie said. As Grunwald drove, Garcia-Juaregui went back and forth from encouragement — "You know I love you, right?" — to threats to drive or "I'll shoot you where you stand," Zabriskie said.

A different story

At several points throughout the wild chase, Grunwald could have run or called for help, Howard said. Instead, she stayed with her boyfriend, joining him as he stole a car from a woman and her child at gunpoint in Nephi, running after him as he ran along I-15. She stopped only when shots rang out.

When Garcia-Juaregui fell, she began to shout at police, the prosecutor said.

"You shot him the head, you didn't have to shoot him in the head!" Grunwald reportedly yelled.

"Her instant reaction speaks volumes," Howard said.

Meanwhile, Garcia-Juaregui told the officer attempting first aid, "Why don't you let me kiss my girlfriend with my last dying breath?"

As the injured man was loaded into an ambulance, Grunwald was heard whispering "baby" and "honey" to him, Howard said.

During a break in the proceedings, Wride's widow, Nanette, told reporters she believes Grunwald chose to follow her boyfriend and should be held accountable for all that happened.

"She's not a child. They're making her look like a child," Nanette Wride said. "No, she was in love with him. … She made a mistake, she made a wrong choice, yes. But you still have consequences to choices, and justice needs to be served."

Dashcam footage

Grunwald remained somber as prosecutors showed dashboard camera footage of the shooting captured by Wride's vehicle, one of the first pieces of evidence presented in the trial.

The video showed Wride pull up behind Grunwald's truck, parked on the side of the road. He approached the truck three times, twice on the driver's side where Grunwald was seated and once to talk to Garcia-Juaregui before returning to the truck to search for the false name that Garcia-Juaregui had provided.

Without warning, the brake lights of the truck light up, the back window slides open, and a figure is seen leaning from the passenger side and firing seven shots in a matter of seconds. Only a quiet groan is heard from Wride, and the truck speeds off.

Members of Wride's family wept as the recorded shots rang through the courtroom. Members of the jury also looked troubled by the footage.

Later, prosecutors presented a photo of Wride's body in his car, showing the sergeant slumped over his computer.

Utah County sheriff's deputy Max Morgan testified about being sent to check on Wride when he stopped answering radio calls, and finding his body. Four rounds had pierced the hood of the vehicle, and three more had gone through the windshield. The car was filled with blood.

A second shooting

Prosecutors had initially named more than 100 potential witnesses for the trial, including officers who assisted in the search that day. Salem Police Lt. Greg Gurney was leaving a high school when he heard that police were looking for a white pickup truck. He spotted such a truck slowly heading south on I-15 and started to follow it.

Without warning, the truck whipped into an emergency turn area in the median and headed back to the north, Gurney testified. He caught a glimpse of the driver, a woman, looking back at him. It wasn't until the truck was gone that he learned why police were looking for the truck.

"It had been involved in an officer-down situation," he said.

Gurney became emotional as he described getting off the freeway, continuing the search, and hearing a cry over his police radio.

"I'm hit," he heard. He later learned it was an officer he knew well, Utah County sheriff's deputy Greg Sherwood.

Believing the truck had changed directions and was coming back, Gurney stopped, put on his protective vest and an AR-15, and "prepared to engage," he said.

Marilyn Arms, a corrections officer, was shoveling snow when she saw a deputy's vehicle driving behind a white pickup. The truck slowed, as if it were being pulled over, and three shots rang out.

"It happened so fast, I put two and two together and thought, 'Oh my … He's been shot,'" Arms told the jury.

She grabbed her coat and ran to the vehicle, where she found Sherwood holding a gunshot wound to the head. He was coherent but severely injured. Sherwood is expected to testify Thursday morning.

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.


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McKenzie Romero


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