Jury quickly convicts Brian Grimm of attempted first-degree murder

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Mar. 20—After about 30 minutes of deliberation, a jury found Brian D. Grimm guilty of first-degree attempted murder for striking his roommate three times with his car.

Grimm, 59, of Culdesac, stood up along with his public defenders, Joseph Schumacher and Rick Cuddihy, as the verdict was read aloud Tuesday at the Nez Perce County Courthouse, with about 15 people in the courtroom. The jury consisting of eight men and four women had multiple options for conviction, including first-degree attempted murder, second-degree attempted murder, aggravated battery and aggravated assault.

The jury decided on a conviction of attempted first-degree murder, which meant that Grimm intended to kill Michael S. Dranichak with premeditation when he hit him with his car three times July 21 in Culdesac.

Second District Judge Mark Monson scheduled sentencing to take place June 5 and ordered a presentencing investigation report. Grimm faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison as well as a $50,000 fine for first-degree attempted murder.

Grimm was previously convicted by a jury of second-degree murder for killing his roommate in Spokane in 1997. Grimm was convicted for the stabbing death of 47-year-old David Miller and was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison. Grimm stabbed Miller with a kitchen knife after the two had been drinking and had an altercation. Grimm claimed self-defense and testified in that trial, answering "I don't know" more than 100 times to questions, according to an article from the Spokesman-Review.

Grimm's previous conviction was not mentioned at trial because previous crimes aren't admissible evidence unless used in evidence to show motive, opportunity or planning, according to Idaho law.

Nez Perce County Prosecutor Justin Coleman thanked his co-counsel, Deputy Prosecutor Kali Jo Parker, and those involved in the investigation from the Nez Perce County Sheriff's Office and the Lewiston Police Department.

"It's a case that we got justice for sure," Coleman said.

Dranichak shook Coleman's hand and thanked him after the trial.

Both the state and the defense rested after three more witnesses testified on the second day of the trial.

Lewiston police Sgt. Craig Roberts testified about a "black box" device, which he called an airbag control module, that he took from the 2013 Ford Fusion that belonged to Grimm and was involved in the case. Parker asked Roberts questions about the data he retrieved from the device.

Roberts testified that the data showed there was front impact and slight movement to the passenger side. The device also records speeds and Roberts testified there was a 7.5-mph speed recorded, but that was the amount of speed lost at the time of impact. The highest speed recorded before the time of impact was 17.4 mph.

It also records the percentage of acceleration, or how hard the pressure is on the pedal. Roberts said the data showed the gas pedal was at 99.9% and Parker asked Roberts what that meant.

"It means the accelerated pedal was on the floor," he said.

In cross-examination by public defender Rick Cuddihy, Roberts testified that he only looked at the data from the black box of the car and was only telling the jury information from the device. He also confirmed that if the wheels of a vehicle were spinning, it would record that speed.

Lt. Jason Leavitt from the Nez Perce County Sheriff's Office also testified about the interview and interrogation of Grimm at the sheriff's office and described different tactics used by law enforcement in interrogation. He said he told Grimm his story wasn't matching up and he changed his demeanor from denial to admitting he had some involvement in what happened.

Leavitt testified that Grimm told him three times that he wished Dranichak was dead and that's what he had been thinking about.

Coleman asked if anything Grimm said stood out to him, and Cuddihy objected, but Monson let him answer the question.

"I don't know why it just kinda stuck with me, is when he said he's not fought off Mike (Dranichak) before because he was afraid of what he would do to Mike, that he would smash his head," Leavitt said.

In cross-examination, Cuddihy asked why Leavitt didn't believe Grimm when he said that Dranichak was abusive and questioned why he didn't look into their history.

"There's no evidence for me either way," Leavitt said, regarding who was the abuser in the home, Grimm or Dranichak.

After Leavitt and Roberts testified, the state rested and the defense called one witness, Mike Grow, who was Grimm and Dranichak's landlord. Grow stated that Grimm was the one who paid the rent. He testified he had a friendly relationship with both men and would rent to Grimm again.

After Grow's testimony, the jury was excused as Monson went over Grimm's rights to testify. Monson asked Grimm if he wanted to testify.

"It took a lot of thought in a short period of time, but I have decided not to," Grimm replied.

Monson also noted that the defense filed a motion to sustain a conviction, meaning the case wouldn't proceed to the jury, which Monson denied. Then both the state and defense presented their closing arguments.

In closing arguments for the defense, Cuddihy spoke about reasonable doubt, which he described as a brick wall on the way to a verdict and it's the state's job to remove reasonable doubt. He said that the evidence provided to the jury is like a single brick that makes up the wall. The state has to remove the brick, symbolizing removing reasonable doubt, for the jury to reach a verdict.

"So long as one brick, or one ounce remains, you can't reach a guilty verdict — it sits in the road," Cuddihy said. "Let's talk about the bricks in the case that are disputed, that remain."

Cuddihy outlined evidence and parts of the case that weren't in doubt, such as the tension between Grimm and Dranichak, and that Grimm hit Dranichak with his car. Although Cuddihy agreed both went to Valley Foods, he said there is disagreement on whether Grimm was telling the truth about where he was, because investigators didn't look for video surveillance.

Cuddihy said the jury didn't know if Dranichak punched Grimm or if the vehicle was traveling 17.4 mph or if the tires were spinning. Cuddihy also noted that there was no reconstruction of the crash, including how the debris in the yard got there and if items struck Grimm's car.

Cuddihy told the jury that Grimm didn't intend to kill Dranichak and that people say things about wishing people dead when they are angry.

Coleman gave his closing arguments outlining the motive and the evidence in the case. Coleman said that the tension between the two roommates had been growing and Dranichak wanted to move out.

The two drove to Valley Foods in Lapwai, where Dranichak was left by Grimm, who also had Dranichak's dog in the car. When Grimm returned to their trailer, Dranichak confronted him and told him he was leaving and walked away. Then Grimm struck Dranichak three times, once with the car landing on top of him and two other times where the car flung him.

Coleman also discussed the elements of first-degree attempted murder and told the jury that the defendant had to take actions toward first-degree murder, including premeditation. Coleman stated that premeditation is the opportunity for a person to reflect on whether he or she should kill a person before a decision is made.

"If you have time to make a different decision, that's enough time to have premeditated what you were doing," Coleman said.

Coleman said Grimm could have driven away or made a different decision, but didn't.

Coleman talked about the relationship between Dranichak and Grimm and the defense's argument that Dranichak was the aggressor. Coleman emphasized, tapping his finger on a podium, that the jury was to decide on Grimm's actions and that the minor nature of Dranichak's injuries didn't mean it wasn't attempted murder. Coleman said that even if Grimm missed Dranichak, it would still be first-degree attempted murder.

Coleman said that the state proved its case of reasonable doubt.

"Mr. Grimm drove his car through the brick wall Mr. Cuddihy was talking about," he said.

Brewster may be contacted at kbrewster@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2297.