SALT LAKE CITY — A woman who as a 17-year-old was convicted as an accomplice with murdering Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Cory Wride has been granted a new trial on some of her convictions.
But it won't change the length of her prison sentence — likely a minimum of 30 years and up to life behind bars — even though her conviction of attempting to murder Utah County sheriff's deputy Greg Sherwood was vacated.
The Utah Court of Appeals on Thursday vacated some of the convictions of Meagan Dakota Grunwald, now 21, of Draper. The appeals court ruled that the jury in Grunwald's trial was not given proper instructions when considering the case.
"At trial, the jury was incorrectly instructed on the elements of accomplice liability," the appeals court wrote in its decision. "There is a reasonable probability that the result would have been different if the jury had been correctly instructed on the law. As a result, we must vacate those convictions and remand for a new trial on those counts."
The court ruled that the outcome would have only been different on some of the charges. Grunwald was granted a new trial for her convictions on charges of attempted aggravated murder, three counts of felony discharge of a firearm, and criminal mischief.
However, the court upheld Grunwald's convictions of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery, stating that "the error was harmless" as it pertained to those counts. She was sentenced to 25 years to life on the murder conviction and a consecutive sentence of five years to life for the robbery for carjacking a vehicle.
Because her other charges carried a combined sentence of one to 15 years in prison, and those were ordered to run concurrent with the other charges, her sentence is essentially unchanged despite those convictions being tossed out.
"We're pleased that they affirmed the counts that they did affirm," said assistant attorney general Christopher Ballard, who handled the appeal for the state. "We're disappointed that they reversed on the other counts because we feel like that for the same reason the error was harmless as to the counts they affirmed on, it was also harmless to the other counts. But I think the court did affirm on the most serious counts and it ultimately does not affect her sentence."
Grunwald was just 17 when she acted as the getaway driver for her boyfriend, Jose Angel Garcia-Juaregui, 27, on Jan. 30, 2014. Garcia-Juaregui shot and killed an unsuspecting Wride as he sat in his patrol car during a routine traffic stop.
When police caught up with the couple a short time later, Sherwood was also shot in the head and critically wounded as Garcia-Juaregui shot at police while Grunwald continued to drive.
An ensuing multicounty chase ended in a shootout on the side of I-15 in Juab County. Garcia-Juaregui was shot and killed by police.
Grunwald was charged as an accomplice to Garcia-Juaregui's crimes, making her equally liable for the shootings, though she never fired any of the shots. She rejected a plea deal that was offered to her from prosecutors, and was convicted in May of 2015. She was sentenced to a total of 30 years to life at the Utah State Prison. In 2016, a request for a new trial was rejected.
In her latest appeal, Grunwald contended that her defense attorney should have made objections to the instructions that were given to the jury at trial. The appeals court agreed.
According to appeals court's decision, the conviction for the attempted murder of Sherwood was vacated and not the shooting of Wride, because it could be argued that Grunwald was acting recklessly when driving at that point, and her actions were not done with the intention of aiding Garcia-Juaregui's actions, who was shooting out the window.
Deputy Utah County attorney Sam Pead, who was the lead prosecutor in Grunwald's case, said Thursday that his office has not decided whether it will seek to have her retried on the charges that were dismissed. It will depend, in part, on whether Grunwald makes an appeal to the Utah Supreme Court. In addition, he said prosecutors would likely talk to the victims first and re-examine the case before making a decision.
But Pead also noted that retrying Grunwald, if it happens, wouldn't be about making sure she serves more prison time as much as it would be to ensure there is accountability for Sherwood being shot.
"We do not want to diminish the effect this had on deputy Sherwood by not afixing some level of culpability and acknowledgment for that," Pead said.
The dismissed charges could have an effect on the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole in determining when she should be released. She currently has a parole hearing scheduled for July 1, 2042.
Attorneys representing Grunwald in her appeal did not return a call for comment.
Grunwald has 30 days to appeal the latest decision to the Utah Supreme Court, which is not obligated to take the case if it chooses not to hear it.