Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
PROVO, Utah (AP) — A jury on Friday began the process of deciding whether a teenager accused in a crime spree that left a deputy dead was violently in love when she drove a speeding getaway car or a terrified victim held at gunpoint by an explosive man.
Deliberations began after prosecutors said Meagan Grunwald's tearful testimony — that her boyfriend pointed a gun at her and threatened her family, forcing her to drive the car during the January 2014 crime spree — rang hollow.
Prosecutor Sam Pead said during closing arguments that the 18-year-old had planned out her future with Jose Angel Garcia-Jauregui, 27, and was willing to do anything to protect it.
"She is along for this wild ride with her man. She is in this with Jose Angel Garcia until the end," Pead told the jury of eight women and two men.
But Grunwald's lawyers say she was an honor roll student who worked multiple jobs to help support her disabled parents before she first met Garcia-Jauregui. Attorney Dean Zabriskie said the older man was initially kind when he moved into her dysfunctional home and seduced her.
"This guy is the ultimate predator," he said. "This is not Bonnie and Clyde. This is not Thema and Louise. This is a young girl caught up in events she had no control over."
The chase started when Utah County sheriff's Sgt. Corey Wride happened across the couple's truck on the side of the road on a snowy day in January 2014. Garcia-Jauregui had a warrant for his arrest, and when the deputy got suspicious, Garcia-Jauregui opened the back window, stuck out a gun and fatally shot him, authorities said. Grunwald drove off, beginning a 50-mile high-speed chase that included a carjacking and left another deputy wounded. It ended in a shootout with police that left Garcia-Jauregui dead.
Prosecutors say Grunwald just found out about a warrant out for her boyfriend's arrest when she sped away in the pickup after Wride's death to keep them from being separated and later hit the brakes so he could fire at another deputy. Though she didn't pull the trigger, they say she is equally responsible for the violence under the law.
Grunwald is facing a dozen charges, including aggravated murder, and could face up to life in prison if she's convicted. She isn't eligible for the death penalty because she was 17 when the alleged crimes happened.
Her two-week trial included emotional testimony from the deputy who was shot in the head during the chase and a woman who pulled her baby from her car as Garcia-Jauregui stole it at gunpoint with Grunwald in the passenger seat.
Grunwald took the witness stand in her own defense this week, telling jurors between sobs that the man she loved seemed to transform into a gun-wielding devil that day, and she thought she could save her family's lives by staying behind the wheel.
But under a pointed cross-examination by prosecutors, she acknowledged that she'd minimized the depth of her relationship with Garcia-Jauregui. She also acknowledged that her driving at points in the chase didn't look like someone forced behind the wheel, but she said she didn't try to escape because she was too afraid.