Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
PROVO — It's now up to six women and two men to decide whether Meagan Grunwald acted intentionally out of love for her older boyfriend or out of fear she would be shot when she drove the getaway truck for the man who killed a sheriff's deputy and gravely wounded another during a violent crime spree.
In closing arguments Friday, prosecutors said Grunwald's decisive and composed actions at age 17 show she supported Jose Angel Garcia-Juaregui's attacks on police and bystanders that day, and acted alongside him in order to protect their future life together.
As he prepared to shoot, she prepared to drive. When he ran, she ran with him.
"(It is) an action that tells everyone she is along for this wild ride with her man," prosecutor Sam Pead told the jury. "She is with Jose Angel Garcia until the end."
After fatally shooting Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Cory Wride and wounding deputy Greg Sherwood, Garcia died following a shootout with officers along I-15. Grunwald was arrested and eventually charged as an accomplice. Along the way they carjacked an SUV in Nephi, and Garcia fired at other officers and bystanders.
While the then-17-year-old Draper girl never fired a shot, prosecutors argued that Garcia wouldn't have been able to commit his crimes without his girlfriend's help.
Defense attorneys, however, countered that Grunwald was a terrified teen who was highly susceptible to 27-year-old Garcia's deadly threats as he pointed a gun at her and told her he would shoot her and her family if she didn't do as she was told.
"Who's in control? The guy with the gun," defense attorney Dean Zabriskie said.
The attorney pointed a disarmed pellet gun at jurors as he made his point, raising his voice as he asked them to consider the fear Grunwald would have felt.
"Doesn't that make your heartbeat go up?" he asked.
All the evidence the state presented to illustrate Grunwald's commitment to the older man — love notes, a ring he gave her, birthday cards — in fact proves that she was a victim, an underage girl who legally couldn't consent to the relationship, Zabriskie said.
"It only would have taken a slight twist of fate for her to be the victim and Angel to be the defendant," he noted.
Prosecutors countered that Grunwald's ability to consent to sex has no bearing on whether she could conspire in the crime.
Grunwald, now 18, is charged as an adult 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.
(It is) an action that tells everyone she is along for this wild ride with her man. She is with Jose Angel Garcia until the end.
After nine days at trial, jurors began deliberations about 1:15 p.m. Friday. They have the option of finding Grunwald guilty of lesser murder and attempted murder charges rather than the aggravated charges, and eliminate the possibility of a sentence of life without parole.
Zabriskie urged jurors to remember how young Grunwald was and is, calling her the victim of a "master manipulator." He speculated that Garcia responded so violently when Wride approached their vehicle on Jan. 30, 2014, because he believed he may have been under investigation for molesting the underage girl — a theory that prosecutors disputed.
While Zabriskie implied Grunwald may not have faced the same charges had Garcia survived, prosecutors told jurors that they would have stood trial together.
"If Jose Angel Garcia had not been killed on that day, he would be sitting here right now — and Meagan Grunwald," deputy Utah County attorney Tim Taylor said firmly. "She is not a sacrificial lamb."
Taylor highlighted 25 points from Grunwald's testimony that he said contradicted other accounts or may have been blatant lies, including hiding elements of her relationship with Garcia, getting drugs, saying she believed Wride and Sherwood had been protected by bulletproof glass, and claims she couldn't hear officers' commands because her ears were ringing from the gunshots.
Prosecutors also argued that Grunwald was never seen attempting to flee or call for help, even as officers drew near. Her priority, they said, was staying with a man she hoped to run away with.
"Like a perfect microcosm of this case, she heads exactly to where Jose Angel Garcia is," Pead said, describing how the couple ran to steal the SUV in Nephi. "She does not look for release. She looks only and exactly at him."
In her testimony on Wednesday, Grunwald testified she considered trying to jump from the vehicle or running from Garcia, but said she was ultimately too afraid to act.
"Should we punish her for not having the courage?" Zabriskie asked.
Zabriskie compared Grunwald to Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her home and later revealed she didn't call out to searchers from her hiding place out of fear. It was a characterization that members of the Wride family called unfair.
However, as deliberations began, Shea Wride, Cory Wride's middle son, expressed confidence in the case that prosecutors presented. No matter what the outcome, the family will have closure knowing the state presented a strong case.
Though she showed little emotion as attorneys presented their closing arguments Friday, Grunwald began to weep after jurors were dismissed to deliberate.
"She's tense, scared. Other than that she's doing fine," Zabriskie said. "It's a very emotional case, and those emotions run both ways. We have a couple of fine officers — one is deceased, one is maimed — and dealing with that. I hope we've made it clear to the jury that they're not the enemy to us, they're heroic figures."
Contributing: Sam Penrod