Could 'child' face no-parole life sentence for role in deputy's death?

Draper teen charged as adult makes first court appearance Monday

Published: Monday, Feb. 24 2014 10:55 a.m. MST

Seventeen-year-old Meagan Grunwald, who has been charged as an adult in the shootings of two Utah deputies, makes her first appearance in Judge Darold McDade's in Provo, Utah, on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014.

Al Hartmann

PROVO — A 17-year-old girl charged with murder in the death of Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Cory Wride appeared in court for the first time Monday.

Meagan Grunwald peered around the courtroom only occasionally as she sat mostly straight faced while she waited with adult inmates for her case to be called in 4th District Court. Defense attorney Dean Zabriskie asked Judge Darold McDade for another hearing in a week to address bail.

"She is — and in most instances would be characterized as — a child," Zabriskie said. "Her experiences, except for this last horrendous experience, have been that of a child. So being locked up in an adult environment with these charges, I would guess, is traumatizing for her."

The teenager certainly faces some serious charges. Of the 12 felonies she's charged with, six of them are first-degree felonies that carry potential life sentences. And despite U.S. Supreme Court rulings narrowing sentencing options for juveniles charged as adults, one legal expert says Grunwald could still potentially spend her life behind bars without a possibility of parole.

Although it was her boyfriend, Jose Angel Garcia-Juaregui, who killed Wride and also shot deputy Greg Sherwood, Grunwald is "absolutely as culpable" for the crime spree that spanned multiple counties, interim Utah County Attorney Tim Taylor said last week. Garcia-Juaregui, 27, died following a shootout with deputies in Juab County.

Prosecutor Sam Pead said Monday that his office outlined their case to support the charges and is following the court proceedings as it would in other adult, criminal cases. "We think the culpability is such that she should be charged as an adult," he said.

Grunwald is currently being held on $1 million bail in the Salt Lake County Jail where she will be housed to avoid any possible conflict of interest.

"You don't see many (cases) where teenagers are charged and where the matter is resolved in the adult system," Zabriskie said. "Because of the seriousness of these charges, and we have a young police officer who was killed in the process of doing his duty, there's always going to be a lot of emotion."

The rules for sentencing juvenile offenders have been the subject of several U.S. Supreme Court decisions over the past decade.

In 2005, the nation's high court ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional for offenders who committed their crimes while they were still a juvenile. In 2010, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling made life without the possibility of parole unconstitutional for juveniles for all crimes that did not involve a killing.

In 2012, based on an Alabama case, the Supreme Court took it a step further and declared in a 5-4 decision that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles convicted in adult court of murder is cruel and unusual punishment.

But University of Utah law professor and former federal judge Paul Cassell said the 2012 decision did not completely eliminate the option of sentencing a juvenile to life without parole.

"To preclude from having the option of giving some kind of mercy, some kind of parole possibility, that is unconstitutional. Utah's setup does not run afoul of that problem," he said.

Under Utah law, a judge would have the option of sentencing Grunwald — if she's convicted — to either life in prison with a possibility of parole or life in prison without any possibility of parole.

"It would not be unconstitutional, based on the particular facts and circumstances of her case," Cassell said.

According to the 2012 ruling, the Supreme Court told judges and juries to "consider the characteristics of a defendant and the details of his offense before sentencing.”

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