GOLDEN, Colo. — In a surprising turn, Todd Grudznske's attorney rose in a courtroom and acknowledged that Grudznske was drunk and at the wheel last Sept. 30 when his pickup slammed into Angela Wimmer's car, killing her.
The admission came during opening statements Tuesday in Grudznske's trial on 13 separate counts -- and was couched as an appeal to prevent his conviction on the most serious charge he faces, first-degree murder.
"Mr. Grudznske drank way too much, got in a vehicle -- a big truck -- and killed somebody," said his attorney, Sean Paris, when it was his turn to address the eight men and six women of the jury, two of whom will be designated as alternates.
Paris asked rhetorically whether what Grudznske did was tantamount to driving while under the influence and vehicular homicide. Then he acknowledged it was both of those things.
"But what it is not is first-degree murder," Paris said. "No."
On the day of the crash, according to prosecutor Ali Brady, Wimmer and Grudznske had embarked on different paths.
"She went to church," Brady told jurors. "He went on a circuit of the bars in the Lakewood area."
In about 3 1/2 hours, she said that Grudznske downed nine shots of hard liquor and four beers, then climbed into his pickup and drove off.
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"We know at 12:39 (p.m.), the defendant makes a deadly decision -- a selfish decision -- to get into his car and drive," Brady said.
Wimmer had left church and gone to Sonic to grab lunch and was sitting at a red light on Kipling Street at Colfax Avenue when Grudznske's pickup slammed into her. In a quarter of a second, her brand-new Mazda was hurled into a 44 mph slide and smashed into three other vehicles.
Wimmer died later that afternoon at a hospital.
Brady underscored the sheer violence of the collision, playing traffic camera footage that captured it in horrific detail. As it played, Wimmer's parents, Randy and Linda, and two of their children sat in the back of the courtroom, fighting their emotions.
Then Brady projected Grudznske's blood-alcohol level -- .341 -- on the screen. That is more than four times the limit at which a Colorado motorist is considered intoxicated under state law.
In addition to the murder charge, Grudznske, 47, faces a dozen other charges:
- Two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of first-degree assault in Wimmer's death.
- Three counts of attempted first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree assault, naming the other three motorists who were injured.
- Felony DUI -- he had six previous drunken driving convictions on his record.
- Violation of a protection order, issued in a domestic violence case, which prohibited him from drinking.
- Reckless driving.
The charging documents detail Grudznske’s previous DUIs, which happened before Colorado enacted its 2015 law that automatically makes a fourth DUI a felony. His first DUI conviction was in 2000, prosecutors said, and his most recent was in 2007.
The murder charge is highly unusual -- a 9Wants to Know investigation found that only a handful of people have previously been charged with first-degree murder in a drunken-driving crash. And Paris signalled that his defense would be focused on preventing a conviction on that charge.
The reason is simple: A first-degree murder conviction would mean a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole. Even if Grudznske were to be convicted of all the other charges, he would have a chance to one day be freed from prison.
Testimony is scheduled to start Wednesday morning.
Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-871-1862.
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