PROVO — A judge ruled Monday that court proceedings against a 17-year-old girl charged with murder in the death of Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Cory Wride will remain in Utah County.
"I find the defendant can have a fair and impartial trial in Utah County," 4th District Court Judge Darold J. McDade said.
The decision was not unexpected, said Meagan Grunwald's attorney, Dean Zabriskie. And with no appeal planned, it left the defense team looking ahead to possible plea agreements and strategy in the case.
"We're looking for the walk, but that's not going to happen unless we go to trial, so we will see how close we can get to that," Zabriskie said of plea negotiations.
"Right now with what's she's charged with she would live out her life in prison. We're talking about potential sentences that could go 15 to 16 years," he said. "What happens after 15 or 16 years? Part of her life would be behind her, she would be a convicted felon, a murderess. You can see what our goals are."
He said they are completely prepared to go to trial if a plea agreement can't be made.
Prosecutor Sam Pead said his office continues to discuss the case and possible resolutions with the defense.
"It's safe to say we're in negotiations," Pead said.
Grunwald, 17, has been charged as an adult with several felonies, including murder, for her part in a Jan. 30 chase and shootings that spanned three crime scenes, left Wride dead and injured Utah County sheriff's deputy Greg Sherwood. Investigators believe Grunwald's boyfriend, Jose Angel Garcia-Juaregui, 27, fired the weapon while Grunwald acted as the getaway driver.
Garcia-Juaregui was killed in a shootout with police.
Grunwald's attorneys filed a motion asking that the case be moved from Utah County, where Wride has been celebrated.
"This officer was both hero and victim in this community," Zabriskie argued. "The continued efforts to remember and even memorialize these young men in our community is one reason, one motivation to seek another venue."
He also pointed to the publicity surrounding the case and his concerns that deputies from the same office that employed Wride and Sherwood would maintain court security and aid the jury during a possible trial.
"While these men would never intentionally do anything to influence a jury, their very status may have some subliminal impact on the jury and that concerns us," Zabriskie said.
But Deputy Juab County Attorney AnnMarie Howard argued that the defense failed to show any evidence that Grunwald couldn't get a fair trial in Utah County.
"Conjecture and suppositions are not sufficient," she said.
She pointed to other high-profile cases where a change of venue was denied and a jury was found. She also cited the county's size and said that if a jury can be found for trials among the 10,000 people in Juab County, then certainly an impartial jury panel can be found in the second-largest county in the state.
"If you open the door wide enough and void dire (jury questioning) is conducted well enough, there are eight impartial jurors in this county," she assured the judge.
McDade opted to take a recess to consider the arguments before issuing his decision. He said he considered the status of the victims and defendant, the size of the county, the nature of the crime and the publicity surrounding the case.
Ultimately, he determined that a change of venue was not necessary, because the county is sufficiently large and neither the victim nor defendant were public figures.
"Even though the office of police officer is an honorable one, members of the community did not widely know the victims' names before the circumstances of this case occurred," McDade said.
Wride's parents, Blake and Kathy, said they were happy with the decision. For one thing, the crime occurred in Utah County, Blake Wride said.
"He served the community and he loved the community and chose to raise his family in the community," Kathy Wride said. "We're really excited that it's going to be here."
Grunwald is charged with aggravated murder, two counts of felony discharge of a firearm with serious bodily injury, two counts of attempted aggravated murder, and aggravated robbery, all first-degree felonies.
She is also charged with criminal mischief, a second-degree felony; 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.
Her attorneys have maintained that she was frightened and coerced into participating in the criminal activity.
Grunwald is set to return to court Aug. 18 for a scheduling conference.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam