17-year-old girl pleads not guilty in Utah deputies’ shootings
Courts • She is charged in a shooting spree that left one officer dead and another wounded.
Published: May 12, 2014 08:19PM
Updated: May 16, 2014 02:06AM
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| Courtesy Utah County Sheriff Sergeant Cory Wride, age 44, Utah County Sheriff's Office

Provo • Meagan Grunwald is the only person alive who knows what happened Jan. 30 as she and her boyfriend tore through two counties as he shot at police, killing one Utah County law enforcement officer and wounding another.

She’s the only one who knows what was going through her head — whether she was in on the crimes, as prosecutors have said, or “scared to death,” as her lawyer claimed. She’s the only one who can explain why she was in the truck with 27-year-old Jose Angel Garcia-Jauregui and what happened in the moments before he started shooting.

On Monday, the 17-year-old told a judge she is not guilty in the 10 felonies and two misdemeanors for which she was charged in the shooting spree that left an officer — and her boyfriend — dead.

Grunwald, a petite teen with wavy brown hair, quietly answered “yes” as 4th District Judge Darold McDade asked her whether she was pleading not guilty of her own accord and whether she understood what that plea means.

In the immediate future, lawyers on both sides said, it means setting a trial date.

Grunwald is charged as an adult with aggravated murder for the Jan. 30 death of Utah County sheriff’s Sgt. Cory Wride on a road near Lehi, and attempted aggravated murder for the wounding of Utah County sheriff’s Deputy Greg Sherwood in Santaquin.

She also faces two counts of discharge of a firearm, two counts of attempted aggravated murder and aggravated robbery — all first-degree felonies — as well as obstructing justice, failure to respond to an officer, possession or use of a controlled substance and lesser charges of felony discharge of a firearm and misdemeanor criminal mischief and violation of operator duties after an accident.

All told, Grunwald could be sentenced to up to life in prison if convicted.

“It’s a terrible case. We mourn, as the whole community does, for this dead police officer,” Grunwald’s defense attorney Dean Zabriskie said after the hearing. “But no one has heard her side of the story.”

If the case goes to trial, Zabriskie said, Grunwald would take the stand in her own defense and tell her side.

It’s a story of fear, he said. A story of how a 17-year-old girl went from high school senior to murder suspect in a flash of gunfire and screech of rubber on road.

“She was scared to death,” he said, adding that now, she’s in jail — “a minor in an adult world.”

Grunwald is being held behind bars on a $1 million cash-only bail.

She was ordered last month to stand trial after a judge found there was enough probable cause — in dash-cam footage, photographs and witness testimony — to move the case forward.

About 1 p.m. on Jan. 30, Wride stopped his patrol car on State Road 73 about 5 miles west of Lehi to check on a Toyota Tundra pickup that was pulled over on the shoulder of the road.

He took information from Grunwald, who was allegedly driving the truck, and then sat back down inside his patrol car to cross-reference it.

That’s when the man in the passenger seat allegedly opened the back sliding window of the truck and opened fire.

Seven gunshots were fired in Wride’s direction, testified Utah County investigator Sgt. Scott Finch, at the April preliminary hearing. The first two pierced the windshield and killed Wride.

The pickup tore away, officials said, beginning a high-speed manhunt that led officers on a two-county chase that would result in the wounding of another law enforcement official and leave several cars damaged and the shooter fatally wounded along the way.

Police believe the girl was behind the wheel when she and Garcia-Jauregui met Sherwood in Santaquin more than an hour after Wride was shot.

Dash-cam video from Sherwood’s patrol vehicle shows that he caught up to the truck as it was going west on the town’s Main Street.

Sirens shriek in the background as the truck slowed and popping sounds rattle in the distance.

When Sherwood’s car stops, he notifies dispatchers that he was shot through the windshield.

It was later determined that a ricocheting bullet struck Sherwood, who ultimately underwent two surgeries to recover from the shooting — one of which involved removing a bullet fragment lodged between his brain and his skull.

Wride’s and Sherwood’s families have been kept up to speed on the progress of the case, said deputy Utah County Attorney Tim Taylor, who is prosecuting it.

Taylor noted that no plea negotiations are underway, but it hasn’t yet been ruled out.

“In cases like this, we always consider whether or not that’s an option,” he said, noting the victims’ families would be consulted in the event of a plea.

Grunwald’s youth makes the case problematic, Taylor said, noting she’s “young” to be facing five first-degree felonies, each of which carries a maximum sentence of up to life in prison.

“We understand that she’s a young girl,” Taylor said. “But young people can still commit horrific crimes.”

A scheduling conference in the case was set for June 2, at which point prosecutors anticipate asking the judge to set aside three weeks for Grunwald’s trial.

Defense attorneys told reporters after Monday’s hearing that they will ask the judge to set the trial for August, while prosecutors anticipate it is unlikely to be set before the end of the year.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @marissa_jae