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Provo • Eighteen-year-old Meagan Dakota Grunwald is on trial as the alleged accomplice in the fatal shooting of a Utah County Sheriff's officer and the wounding of another.
But defense attorney Dean Zabriskie called the man who did the actual shooting 27-year-old Jose Angel Garcia-Jauregui a "dark angel" who threatened to kill Grunwald unless she followed his orders by driving the getaway car.
Garcia-Jauregui told Grunwald to do what he said or "I'll blow your head off," Zabriskie told a 4th District Court jury during opening statements on Wednesday.
Garcia-Jauregui mixed threats with endearments, Zabriskie said. The then-17-year-old girl's boyfriend would threaten to kill Grunwald, then he would tell her he loved her and wouldn't hurt her.
"Her emotions are now in total chaos," Zabriskie said. "What was she supposed to do?"
But Deputy Juab County Attorney AnnMarie Howard said Grunwald willingly participated in the events of Jan. 30, 2014, which left Utah County sheriff's Sgt. Cory Wride dead in his patrol vehicle. Later, Garcia-Jauregui shot and wounded Utah County sheriff's Deputy Greg Sherwood before Garcia-Jauregui was fatally wounded during a shootout with other officers.
"Actions speak louder than words," Howard told jurors. "And the defendant's actions show that when there was a choice to be made, she chose to aid Jose Angel Garcia."
Events began in Utah County at about 1 p.m. that day, when Wride stopped his patrol car on State Road 73 about five miles west of Lehi to check on a pulled-over Toyota Tundra pickup truck allegedly driven by Grunwald.
Zabriskie said Grunwald had been preparing to move to St. George that day with her mother, and had gone for a drive with Garcia-Jauregui. Their relationship was dissolving, the defense attorney said, and the couple got into a heated argument.
Grunwald pulled over because she was crying so hard, Zabriskie said. He said she put on her flashers on because it was foggy, and she didn't want to get hit.
Wride pulled up behind them, and he was "kind, sweet" when he approached, asking Grunwald if she had been crying, Zabriskie said. She said no.
Garcia-Jauregui gave the officer a false name. When Wride left to check the information, Grunwald asked her boyfriend why he didn't just give the officer his real name. She was told, "Shut your f-ing mouth!" Zabriskie said.
Garcia-Jauregui man knew he had an arrest warrant issued for him the day prior, according to Zabriskie.
While Wride was in his vehicle, checking the information he had just received from the pair, Garcia-Jauregui opened the back sliding window of Grunwald's truck and shot and killed the officer.
The girl then sped away from the scene, according to court documents, which largely rely on dash cam footage from Wride's vehicle.
That dash cam was played in court Wednesday, and showed Wride going back and forth between his vehicle and the pickup truck as he tried to figure out Garcia-Jauregui's true identity.
The video also shows the white pickup truck's brake lights illuminated for several minutes before the back window is flung open and five shots are fired quickly toward the officer. A groan is heard from Wride as the white truck speeds away and two more shots are fired.
Wride's family members sobbed as the last moments of his life were played on a large projection screen, and several of the jurors appeared to be emotional, as well.
Prosecutors believe Grunwald was still driving the truck when she and Garcia-Jauregui encountered Sherwood in Santaquin.
Howard said Grunwald braked to close the gap between the two vehicles cars so Garcia-Jauregui could shoot and wound Sherwood in the head.
Elaine Arms, a corrections officer at the Utah county jail, lives near Santaquin's Main Street and testified that she heard three gunshots as she shoveled snow in the driveway. She ran to Sherwood's truck, she said, assuming the worst.
"He was holding his head," Arms said. "A little bit of blood [was] trickling down. He seemed to be in shock."
Arms said an ambulance came and quickly whisked Sherwood to a local hospital.
Meanwhile, the pickup truck made its way back to the freeway. Grunwald reached speeds up to 110 mph there, Howard said, as Garcia-Jauregui continued to fire at police. This time, a Utah Highway Patrol deputy was targeted but wasn't struck.
The crime spree ended after the couple allegedly hijacked another vehicle at gunpoint, which was eventually disabled in Juab County. Garcia-Jauregui was struck in the head during a shootout with police there.
Grunwald, who is expected to testify, will claim she was forced by Garcia-Jauregui to do all those things, her attorney said.
Grunwald was in tears as Zabriskie told jurors that the crux of the case is "whether Meagan Grunwald had a choice."
"She is not guilty if she acted because she was coerced to do so by threats of violence," Zabriskie said. "We must place ourselves especially you, the jury, in the skin of Meagan Grunwald."
Zabriskie said Grunwald is a victim herself, and that Garcia-Jauregui took advantage of the girl who was 16 years old when they first met.
The defense attorney called Garcia-Jauregui "an evil man," and said no one knew he was dangerous or had a "darkness."
Zabriskie said Grunwald had a difficult life growing up, and cared for her parents, who are both handicapped. The defense attorney said his client will testify about those challenges, and how she met Garcia-Jauregui and became enamoured with the man.
She will also explain what happened inside the truck that day, Zabriskie said, and tell how she was forced to participate.
"She was, and will continue to be, a victim," he told jurors.
But Wride's widow, Nannette Wride, said outside of court that she doesn't feel Grunwald was a child who was unable to make her own decisions that January day.
"She made a mistake," the widow said. "She made a wrong choice. You still have consequences and justice needs to be served. She made the choice. She knows the difference between right and wrong."
Nannette Wride said Wednesday's day in court which included the presentation of her husband's dash cam video, photos taken of him at autopsy and other evidence surrounding his death was difficult to witness.
"It's really emotional," she said. "I'm having emotions that are just bubbling up. I'm having a hard time hearing his voice and seeing everything. It just kind of ripped my Band-Aid off, you know? It's really hard."
Grunwald has been charged as an adult with first-degree felony aggravated murder, for allegedly being an accomplice to Wride's slaying.
Grunwald also is charged with 11 other crimes: two counts of first-degree felony attempted aggravated murder, first-degree felony aggravated robbery, three counts of felony discharge of a firearm, two charges of criminal mischief, and one count each of causing an accident involving property damage, failure to stop at command of police and possession or use of a controlled substance.
If the jury convicts Grunwald of any of the first-degree felonies, she could be sentenced to spend up to life in the Utah State Prison. The defendant is not eligible for the death penalty because she was a minor when the alleged crimes occurred.
Eight women and two men two of them alternates were selected to hear the two-week trial, which is being presided over by Judge Darold McDade.
According to charging documents, Grunwald and Garcia-Jauregui had been living together for several months at the teen's mother's home in Draper, and the couple planned to wed when Grunwald turned 18 in August.
Garcia-Jauregui was a prison parolee, who was released after serving five years of a one-to-15-year sentence for 2008 convictions for attempted murder and aggravated assault.