SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah woman convicted of murder for driving her boyfriend during a deadly police chase when she was 17 is arguing on appeal that she shouldn’t have been imprisoned for his crimes.
Jurors got misinformation about the law that made them convict Meagan Grunwald despite little proof that she was an active player in the crime, her lawyers say in new documents filed before the Utah Court of Appeals. She has testified that she was forced to drive as her boyfriend shot two sheriff’s deputies, one fatally.
Prosecutors disagree. They contend that there was plenty of evidence she intentionally helped him, and the jury got solid information about the law.
Though Grunwald, now 20, wasn’t accused of firing the gun that killed a sheriff’s deputy, accomplices can be considered responsible under state law.
Grumwald’s lawyers are citing one of the state’s most well-known overturned convictions to support their argument: the case of polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs.
Jeffs was found guilty of being an accomplice to the rape of a teenage girl after he officiated over her marriage to her cousin, but the Utah Supreme Court tossed out the verdict over faulty jury instructions. Jeffs was later sent to Texas, where he was convicted and imprisoned on separate charges.
Likewise, Grunwald argued the jury got bad instructions because they weren’t told that they needed to find she was actively involved in the shootings committed by Jose Garcia-Jauregui. He was killed in a shootout with police after the 2014 chase.
“Because the state did not have any evidence Meagan solicited Garcia to commit these crimes … the state attempted to prove its case by focusing on Meagan’s undying love for Garcia and how she would have, and did, follow him anywhere,” her lawyers wrote in court documents filed Tuesday. They say her conviction should be overturned because her lawyer didn’t try to fix the faulty jury instructions.
At trial, Grunwald gave tearful testimony that she only drove the car because her boyfriend turned the gun on her and threatened her family.
Prosecutors, though, said Grunwald was a willing accomplice ready to do anything to stay with her 27-year-old boyfriend. Police dash cam video of the truck shows her driving in a way that helped him fire shots or flee, and she didn’t take any opportunities to call for help, prosecutor Tim Taylor said Friday.
“The jury just didn’t believe her version of events,” Taylor said.
The chase started in January 2014 after Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Cory Wride happened upon the couple’s pickup on the side of a road. Garcia-Jauregui had a warrant out for his arrest and gave the deputy a fake name. When Wride grew suspicious, Garcia-Jauregui stuck a gun out the truck’s rear window and shot the deputy in his police cruiser, authorities said.
A second deputy was also shot in the head as the couple fled from police, though that officer survived.
Grunwald was convicted last year on 11 counts, including aggravated murder, attempted murder, aggravated robbery and use of a controlled substance. She was found not guilty on one count of attempted aggravated murder.
She was sentenced to up to life in prison and won’t have her first parole hearing until she’s 45 years old.