You don't see many (cases) where teenagers are charged and where the matter is resolved in the adult system. 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. —Dean Zabriskie, 4th District Court. Defense attorney
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.”
But Cassell also believes, based on the ruling, that the U.S. Supreme Court will be keeping an eye on sentencings around the country.
"The court, I think, is signaling it's going to be aggressive in evaluating cruel and unusual punishment challenges to sentences imposed on juveniles. But it hasn't created a hard and fast rule," he said.
In Grunwald's case, her attorney said he may ask for more time to look at the evidence in the case at a March 3 hearing before addressing bail.
"We've just been retained. We're in the process of getting all of the materials," Zabriskie said after the hearing. "We start with the presumption that she hasn't done anything wrong and go from there."
Members of the teenager's family, as well as members of Wride's family, were present at Monday's hearing. They declined to comment.
Grunwald is charged as an adult in Wride's death as well as the shooting of Sherwood. She is facing 14 charges, including six first-degree felonies: aggravated murder, two counts of felony discharge of a firearm with serious bodily injury, two counts of attempted aggravated murder, and aggravated robbery.
She is also charged with two counts of obstructing justice, 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, all third-degree felonies; criminal mischief, a class A misdemeanor; and violation of operator duties for accident involving property damage, a class B misdemeanor.
Originally, Cassell said the idea of putting juveniles in adult court was due to a sense that some minors were getting "a slap on the wrist" in juvenile court.
"The argument that was made was, 'Wait a minute, some of these 16- and 17-year-old 'kids' are truly adults and vicious adults and they deserve to be handled in the adult system and receive adult punishment,'" he said.
In Utah, there have been a handful of cases in recent years of defendants who were juveniles when they committed their crimes, receiving hefty penalties after being convicted in adult court.
Antonie Hunter Farani was just 14 years old when he murdered JoJo Brandstatt in February of 2009. In 2012, he essentially received a 35-years-to-life prison sentence. He was sentenced to 20 years to life for aggravated murder and 15 years to life for two counts of aggravated kidnapping. The two 15-years-to-life terms are to run concurrent to each other, but consecutive to the murder sentence.
In 2009, 17-year-old Joshua Buie was charged as an adult with murder in the shooting death of Stephen Lasiloo, 21, after a dispute over a stolen iPod. Buie was ordered to spend 15 years to life in prison.21 comments on this story
Also in 2012, Ricky Angilau was sentenced to up to five years in prison for manslaughter. Angilau, who was 16 when he shot and killed fellow Kearns High School student Esteban Saidi, was originally charged with murder before pleading guilty to the reduced charge.
Currently in Davis County, prosecutors are attempting to have a 15-year-old West Point boy certified to stand trial as an adult in the stabbing deaths of his 4- and 10-year-old brothers.