The Oddest Couple

He was thin, she was fat. He was passive, she was pushy. He's alive, she's dead.

Boulder police officers spoke with Mike at the scene. According to the officers' reports, his statements about when he last spoke with Sonia were contradictory. He originally said he'd last spoken with her on the afternoon of February 1. Later he said the last time they talked was later that night, after watching the television show Northern Exposure, which went off the air at 10 p.m.

Mike tells Westword he slept next to his wife on Wednesday night. The next morning he got up and walked the dogs. At that point, he says, she was in the same position she had been the night before. He assumed she was still asleep. When he returned, he couldn't wake her and called for help.

Police officers spent the next day and a half investigating the scene. There was blood on the floor and on the pillow near Sonia, but nowhere else. There was no sign of forced entry or of a struggle. A blood splatter analyst later concluded that she had been struck in the head while lying in the same position in which Mike found her.

In his autopsy report and in later court testimony, coroner Meyer estimated a time of death between 1:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. Meyer said the blow to the head was "nonlethal"; there was no skull fracture or brain injury. But he said blood loss or unconsciousness stemming from the blow probably hastened Sonia's death.

Sonia Grainger was "sick enough that she could have died at any time," Meyer testified during Grainger's preliminary hearing in October. The coroner explained that Sonia's weight made it difficult for her to draw air into her lungs. That led to less oxygen in her blood and put stress on her heart. A period of unconsciousness would have only restricted oxygen intake further, he said. Under questioning from Schild, Meyer admitted that Sonia could have hit herself in the head. But he added that "nothing around the scene of her death would indicate that."

According to police reports, Mike was visibly upset but not crying when officers arrived at his home. He was casually dressed and his hair was combed. He didn't want to go to the station, wondering who would watch over the dogs, but eventually left with police about 45 minutes later.

Though Grainger doesn't raise the issue himself, attorney Schild says police browbeat his client during his interrogation. "They used every trick in the book short of unlawful force," Schild says of investigators. "I feel that some of their techniques, while not physically heavy-handed, were probably legally inappropriate. They kept saying he wasn't under arrest, but they didn't give him his keys so he could go."

Schild adds that he hasn't filed a motion attacking the legality of the interrogation, but he says he hasn't ruled out the possibility.

Sue Ericson says she and another food-bank worker went to Mike's home after he'd been released by police. "He was pretty much a basket case," she says. "We offered to stay in the house, but he was frustrated. He had to deal with his wife dying and had to deal with idiots who think he did it. Any one of those things would blow you away if you were normal."

Kathy Coyne, the head of the Boulder food bank, adds: "I think that first interrogation was like, 'Tell me you did it, tell me you did it.' Because he was in such intense therapy, somebody from rehab should have been there. He had no money or credit cards when they released him. He was very upset, and he was in a state of grief to begin with."

(Boulder police did not return phone calls seeking comment about Mike's interrogation.)

Within days of his release, Mike was making arrangements for Sonia's funeral. The Saturday after Sonia died, says Tonia Kucera, Mike called her in Grand Island and chewed her out. "He told me that I hated my mother, that I was not going to be happy with the arrangements that he made and neither was any of my family," she testified. "He said that he saw hatred in my eyes every time they were here to visit, that I was no daughter to my mother. He thought I was after her money."

Ironically, it was Mike who advised Tonia to get a lawyer to figure out what her obligations were in settling her mother's estate. That led to the filing of a probate suit. And those same lawyers later filed a separate wrongful-death suit against Mike, accusing him of killing Sonia with the blow to the head. The attorneys argued that if Grainger contributed to Sonia's death, he wasn't entitled to inherit from her--which would have put Tonia next in line.

That lawsuit led to a settlement in the early summer of 1996. Cohen, who represented Mike in that case, says he can't discuss the settlement, which is sealed, but Schild says it was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Mike gave six depositions in the 1995 probate case brought by Tonia. Those interviews took place over a period of ten months, starting in August 1995, and continuing through June 1996. According to Cohen, Tonia's attorneys knew they couldn't depose Mike if he was being investigated in a criminal matter. When the probate judge pressured the DA's office to either charge Mike or drop the case, the DA pulled out. That gave the green light for the depositions, which apparently have put Mike Grainger on the hotseat again.

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