By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Even before the accident, Mike Grainger wasn't quite right. "We called him 'Mike Grainger, Mike Grainger, Mike Grainger,'" remembers Barb Thomsen, one of his former co-workers at the Burlington Northern railyards in Alliance, Nebraska. "He always repeated everything. He was kind of slow in the head."
But everybody liked Mike. He always volunteered to inspect the trains whenever they stopped. He read his orders over and over to make sure he got them right. He was slow, his family says, because he'd been injured at the age of twelve, hit in the back of the head by a ceremonial log at a Boy Scout meeting. Life had been a challenge ever since. But Mike made the best of it.
Mike had come to Alliance in 1977 looking to make a clean start. There he found a good job and a girlfriend, Sonia Kunes, who also worked at the railyard. They were a strange pair, say co-workers. She was heavy, he was skinny. She was witty and intelligent, he had trouble remembering the simplest things. Yet they were happy together.
The happiness went away on Valentine's Day, 1990. Standing brakeman-style at the front of a string of locomotives being driven by Sonia, Mike was pinned against a metal bar when one of the engines swung toward another engine on a curve. He took a crushing blow to the head before being rolled between the giant locomotives like paper through a press. Every one of his ribs was broken. He was still conscious when he hit the frozen soil.
Mike spent the next six weeks in a drug-induced coma in a Scottsbluff hospital. "They revived him eight times on the emergency table, which they shouldn't have done," says his brother-in-law, Richard Wade. "Mike never fully recovered. He was never the same. The Mike we know is dead."
In the ten years leading up to the accident, Mike and Sonia enjoyed a quiet, comfortable life together in Alliance. But from that day on, their lives became joined in a tightening knot of co-dependence and guilt. They moved to Boulder, where Mike, who suffered brain damage in the accident, toiled to relearn basic tasks. Sonia, who blamed herself for the accident, was tormented by the idea that she had taken away the personality of the man she loved. She sank into a deep depression and began overeating. She got so big she couldn't get out of bed.
Mike continually assured Sonia that he wasn't angry, that he didn't blame her for his condition. But according to Boulder police, his powers of forgiveness were limited. In February 1995, they say, he hit Sonia over the head with a blunt object while she slept in their Boulder townhome, killing her. He now stands charged with second-degree murder.
Mike Grainger says he's innocent. According to him, he found his 44-year-old wife dead after taking his dogs for a walk. And his attorney notes several anomalies that could raise doubts in the mind of a jury. For one thing, Boulder prosecutors waited a full two and a half years before filing charges against Grainger. And Boulder County Coroner John Meyer has ruled that while the "manner of death" in the case was homicide, the actual cause of death was "morbid obesity." The coroner based that uncommon finding on his belief that while the blow to Sonia's head was not a lethal one, it may have been enough to push a woman in her condition--he estimated her weight at 325 pounds--over the edge.
There are no signs that anyone other than Mike was in the home the night of Sonia's death. But any evidence linking him to her death was, and is, circumstantial. The weapon that allegedly delivered the blow has never been found. The case is further complicated by another of Meyer's findings: Even without the blow to the head, the coroner said, Sonia was in such poor physical condition that she may well have died from natural causes within a few days.
The Boulder District Attorney's Office cited insufficient evidence when it declined to file charges against Grainger in 1995. But last September, DA Alex Hunter, whose controversial handling of the JonBenet Ramsey case had already earned him a place in the national spotlight, acted. Peter Maguire, the deputy district attorney assigned to prosecute the case, refuses to comment on the reason for the delay. But given the laborious and so far inconclusive investigation into the Ramsey murder, some have suggested that the Boulder police and the DA's office are using Grainger as a scapegoat, a man who can present them with a very public conviction to combat the deluge of bad press both have received in the last year.
"I just don't know if it's political," says Grainger's attorney, Peter Schild. "I have no proof of anything. The DA says they have more evidence, but I don't think they do."
"You can draw your own conclusions," says Neal S. Cohen, a former attorney of Grainger's. "One has to wonder what took them so long. One has to wonder why they reversed their position on what appears to be very thin evidence. Because of his disability, you can play him, like the DA did, like the investigators."
But the cops aren't the only ones who've accused Grainger of causing Sonia's death. In 1996, before any criminal charges were filed against him, Tonia Kucera, Sonia's daughter from a previous marriage, filed a wrongful-death suit in Boulder District Court accusing Mike of killing her mother. She asked for a portion of the seven-figure settlement Mike had received from the railroad and got it when the suit was settled out of court.
Police reportedly charged Grainger with murder in part because they believe he incriminated himself during depositions he gave as part of the civil suit. But Cohen, who was present for those depositions, says they include nothing remotely incriminating.
Mike Grainger, now 43, has yet to enter a plea as he awaits the results of a psychiatric evaluation to determine his sanity. Schild says he expects his client will plead not guilty.
For Mike, little remains of the life he once knew. "The old Mike died in 1990," he says, echoing his brother-in-law. "I want him back today." Mike's conversation is marked by stuttering, disjointed trains of thought and constant repetition. When he is bothered, as he always is this time of year, he has an even tougher time expressing himself. His entire left side remains numb.
Mike lives alone with a toy poodle and three Pomeranians, surviving off what's left of his settlement with the railroad. His townhome smells slightly of urine but is furnished with a new Sony TV. He has time to contemplate where he stands, and his future--the prospect of a lengthy trial and possible imprisonment--may prove to be as bleak as the wreckage of his and Sonia's lives.
"If people think that I'm guilty, fine," he says of his accusers. "I'm not trying to sway any votes. I'm not an idiot. I'm a lot smarter than people think."
Right now Mike is more interested in the question of Sonia's guilt. "She blamed herself for the accident," he says. "She thought I blamed her for the accident. She took that guilt to her grave. I could never convince her otherwise."
To call Mike and Sonia's relationship symbiotic is an understatement. Sonia took care of Mike in the years after his head injury. In the years before her death, as her weight mushroomed to life-threatening proportions, it was Mike who kept watch over her.
"Both of them felt they were unloved by other people," Tonia Kucera testified during a preliminary hearing on Mike's murder charge. Both were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I still miss her," Mike says. "I never will forget her. Nobody'll ever replace her." From all accounts, even Mike's, he and Sonia were miserable together. But there was no other place for them to go.
Sonia Kunes grew up in Ravenna, a farming community of 1,300 in south-central Nebraska. She wasn't always so fat. When she was young, remembers her friend Joyce Nason, Sonia was "very thin. She was absolutely beautiful." Sonia was shy but popular in high school. She even joined the cheerleading squad. But she used to smoke up to three packs of cigarettes a day, and when she quit, remembers Barb Thomsen, "let me tell you, she started eating."
Sonia married a local boy named Terry Kucera and had her only child with him. Tonia was born in 1966. Nason remembers little about Sonia's first husband. "I think he was a partyer; she wasn't as much," she says. (Terry Kucera now lives in Grand Island, Nebraska, and declined comment for this story.) After the couple divorced, in the early '70s, Tonia lived with her mother for a while, but she spent most of her formative years with her dad.
Robert M. "Mike" Grainger grew up in Tennessee and came to Alliance to live with his sister, Elaine Wade, and her husband, Richard. Alliance was a railroad town of about 16,000, and Richard Wade helped Mike get on at the Burlington Northern, the town's main employer. "Back then they were looking for anyone that was a warm body and could give a good day's work," says Elaine.
Mike had no prior railroad experience, but he quickly took to the job of guiding the train engines that lumbered in and out of the switching yards.
His nickname was "three-times Mike" because he learned things by repeating them. His sister says Mike was not retarded but suffered from learning disabilities. According to Richard Wade, Mike's slowness stemmed from the injury he suffered at the Boy Scout meeting. The Wades think the phenobarbital Mike was given for his injuries may also have affected his development.
Mike grew up relatively normal, playing football when he was in high school. "A better friend you would never want to have," Elaine says. "He'd give you the shirt off his back if you were cold."
Sonia had also found a job at BN in the late 1970s and eventually worked her way up to engineer. Her co-workers remember her for her sharp wit. She had expensive taste in clothes and jewelry, particularly diamonds. She and Mike also collected Mickey Mouse paraphernalia.
In most ways, though, they lived simply. They shared an inexpensive trailer. They had the same rest days, grew a garden together and traveled to Aspen in the fall to watch the leaves change. She wore the pants, he doted on her, and they kept largely to themselves.
But their relationship didn't sit well with Mike's family. "She had the right key at the right time to completely dominate his life," says Richard Wade. "The only people he was allowed to see were people she knew and liked."
"She was dishonest," says Elaine. "I felt she used Mike, in every sense that a man and woman can use and be used by one another."
According to Richard Wade, after Sonia moved in with Mike, he paid the bills for his trailer and for hers. Meanwhile, "she was taking her checks to buy raw diamonds and put money in the bank." Wade adds that he once snooped through some of Sonia's documents and discovered that she had $31,000 in her savings account.
Sonia certainly was financially savvy, and Mary Rachetts, chair of the local branch of the transportation union, estimates that Sonia and Mike earned almost $100,000 a year. "Money was her god," says co-worker Elenor Kohler. "Sonia was not a giver."
But if Mike was bothered by this, he kept it to himself. Marriage was a far-off thought. "To us, we were married," Mike says. And the couple didn't want any kids: "She was too big; we didn't think it was good."
Mike used to be heavy himself, but before the accident he had lost eighty pounds and was "pumped up, in really, really good shape," says Rachetts. "He'd go and work out every day after work."
That's probably what saved his life.
On February 14, 1990, Sonia was running three light engines west toward the roundhouse to be serviced. She was stationed in the trailing engine, riding in the cab on the left-hand side. Mike was standing on the steps of the lead engine, leaning off the grab irons on the right. It was noon. It was cold out, and snow had started to fall.
The curve where the two trains met is deceptive, and gauging clearance was difficult. Mike thought things were fine, and he leaned out to signal Sonia around the curve.
The first engines passed each other. The grab irons on the sides of the engines barely missed each other--by no more than six inches, says Wade.
"I thought I was in the clear," Mike says. He had only a few seconds to react when he realized that the trains were too close. The first engine on the stationary train "cleared the lead, didn't clear me," he says. "I was riding on the steps. I thought we had plenty of room to get by. I tried to return up the steps and fell off the engine."
A bolt holding the grab iron on the other engine hit him in the head. Then the grab iron itself hit him in the chest and spun him around. For a few seconds his body was rolled between the two consists. The tracks veered apart, and he fell to the ground.
The ambulance took him into Alliance, where one of his lungs collapsed. Doctors put Mike into a coma, and his memories are hazy. What he does know is this: "We shouldn't have been out there when we was, but we was."
The chopper stationed at the trauma center in Scottsbluff, one hour away, was grounded because of the weather. But a railroad worker offered to drive Mike to Scottsbluff, despite the dicey weather. After they got there, Mike's other lung collapsed. A priest was summoned to administer the last rites.
"They were pumping quarts of blood through me as fast as can be, like there was a hole in me," Mike says. His head was badly swollen. He caught a case of pneumonia that almost killed him. His kidneys threatened to fail. "They told Sonia that any little thing that happens, he's a goner," he remembers.
Few colleagues from the railyard visited. Friends say that Sonia's daughter, Tonia, never stopped by. Mike's father, Lloyd, came to visit from Tennessee, but the Grainger family's bad luck held: Lloyd had to be hospitalized for gallbladder surgery while he was there.
Sonia kept Mike going. "She told me she'd sing for me the whole time--'Hold On,' by Wilson Phillips," Mike says. "Every night in the ICU, every night she'd pat my hand...'Hold on, one more day,' she'd sing. She sang every day."
"If it wasn't for her, he'd have never made it," Rachetts says.
Mike thrashed around so much in his coma that doctors tied him down. Richard Wade says his brother-in-law was confused, disoriented and upset when he finally woke up. "He looked at me with those pitiful dog eyes and said, 'Untie me,'" he recalls. "So later that afternoon they took them off."
But after Mike emerged from his coma, cracks began to show in his even-tempered demeanor. "If you rattled him, he'd want to swear and say things he didn't mean," Rachetts says. Doctors put Mike "in a room on the fifth floor, strapped him down, made him very angry," Rachetts adds. "It was real difficult--he'd lost so much weight, he was so angry. He'd try to pull away from the bed. They had a terrible time getting him to eat."
Barb Thomsen's memories of seeing Mike, post-coma, still haunt her. "They had him tied down," she says. "He was wild, kicking around. He didn't know me at all. He was cussing Sonia out, called her a 'fucking bitch.' He was not himself. If he could have gotten hold of her, he'd have killed her."
When Mike was better, he and Sonia sued the railroad. Though the terms of the 1992 settlement are sealed, Rachetts says the couple received $2.4 million. The bulk of the money went to an annuity that eventually became worth $4 million. According to Rachetts, $150,000 of the settlement went directly to Sonia, who was named conservator of the settlement trust.
Some observers, including attorney Cohen, think the idea of Sonia getting money for an accident that she may have caused is ridiculous. "Really, it was her fault," Thomsen says. "How she ever got anything, I don't know. It's really crazy. She probably should have got fired."
After Mike was released from the hospital, Sonia and Mike's family arranged to have Mike transferred to the Mapleton Rehab Center in Boulder. Mike and Sonia got a townhome on Joslyn Place and cut their ties with Nebraska. "Maybe she wanted a clean break," Rachetts says. "She was always morbidly afraid he'd never get back to the point where they could have a normal life."
In April 1990, not long after their arrival in Colorado, Mike and Sonia were married. But a normal life proved too much to ask for. Mike was too busy learning how to live again at Mapleton. "I couldn't do nothing," he says. "I couldn't swallow. It took three or four months to learn to dress."
While he struggled to cope, Sonia grew depressed and gained more weight. During the first six months after the accident, Rachetts says, she put on 100 pounds. "She's always been big, ever since I knew her," remembers Mike. "She got bigger. We couldn't go in a lot of places. She wouldn't fit in chairs. It got really bad here--people in Boulder were rude and nasty."
But Mike still managed to make friends. He couldn't work a full-time job, so he turned toward volunteer work. His neighbors on Joslyn Place say he was always doing favors for them: He shoveled snow from their driveways and sidewalks, trimmed their hedges and left their papers on their front porches. He brought pies one Thanksgiving, and fruit and candy for Christmas. He asked for nothing in return.
One neighbor, Benny Classetti, remembers stuffing forty dollars in Mike's pocket as compensation for some job Mike had done. When Classetti returned to his home, the forty dollars was tied to his doorknob.
At the behest of his therapists at Mapleton, Mike also began to volunteer at the Community Food Share food bank in Boulder. While most volunteers manage to squeeze in a few hours in between their other jobs, Grainger became a well-liked regular.
The work was unglamorous--loading and unloading food--but "he made it look like a spit-and-polish, elegant job," says Sue Ericson, the food bank's volunteer coordinator. Mike even received a Volunteer of the Year award. Officials at the food bank say that Sonia drove him to work. They describe her as friendly and supportive.
But there was trouble at home. "We never had sex," Mike says. "She changed. I changed. The chemistry was over. I still don't accept it. Before the accident, she had a sense of humor. She laughed about it. Then she just gave up, dug her heels in, like quicksand."
Sonia became trapped by her own body. She couldn't get up the stairs, so Mike set up a mattress and box springs in the living room. Mike says he tried to get her to walk and exercise, but she wouldn't. "Take three or four steps, people thought she'd have a heart attack," he says. "She had to have a place to sit down."
Mike did the cooking, cleaning and laundry; Sonia kept the finances, spent the money, and drove the car. However, when they went grocery shopping, she'd stay in the car while he went inside to shop.
When Sonia grew too fat to make it to the bathroom, Mike put towels and plastic sheets under her and cleaned up after her.
Benny Classetti and his wife were invited over to the Grainger home on Christmas Eve 1994, less than two months before Sonia's death. Though they had lived next door for four years, it was the first time Classetti had met Sonia. "She was a very pretty woman," he recalls, "but oh, so fat."
Shortly before Sonia's death, she arranged to see a psychotherapist named Diane Rudine. Rudine made four visits to the Grainger home in the weeks before Sonia's death. She stayed for an hour and charged $50 each time.
"The first time I saw her, she was lying on a double bed--it could have been a queen-sized--and she took up most of the bed," Rudine told the court at the October preliminary hearing. "I would have guessed her at 400 pounds or so."
Rudine said that Sonia suffered from agoraphobia, the fear of open spaces, as well as low self-esteem. Sonia wanted to attend her daughter's marriage, a modest Catholic ceremony being planned in Omaha, but was afraid people would stare at her. Rudine also testified that Sonia was being treated for depression by Dr. Jed Shapiro at the Boulder County Mental Health Center.
Grainger never sat in during Sonia's meetings with Rudine, and the therapist described him in testimony as gruff and unfriendly. "He made me fairly nervous," Rudine said. "He seemed fairly hostile to my being there."
Sonia was usually lying on the bed, propped up on an elbow, a sheet covering her. Rudine said that Sonia had scrapes on her face and sores on her mouth. Sonia told her she had fallen and suffered carpet burns. Rudine said she was lucid and intelligent and had a sense of humor.
The pair discussed her relationship with Mike, and Rudine testified that Sonia felt that "he was against her now--[that she was] lazy and had given up."
Mike was elsewhere in the house during these sessions. When they were over, Sonia would call for him to bring the checkbook, and she would write a check to Rudine.
By Rudine's third visit, the therapist told the court, Sonia was much worse. Wearing an oversized T-shirt and leggings, she was "sitting up in a chair. One ankle was very purple, both feet were swollen, one quite reddish." Sonia told Rudine that she had fallen. Rudine thought her ankle might be sprained or broken and told her to see a doctor.
Rudine testified that she and Sonia talked about domestic violence. According to Rudine's testimony, Sonia said that her first husband, Terry Kucera, had beaten her but that Mike did not. However, she said, he did verbally abuse her.
Mike admits that the two argued: "You could cut it with a knife, the tension, the stress." But there were no "knock-down-drag-out fights," he says. "I had no weight; she was the boss."
The Monday before her death, Sonia had a long phone conversation with her daughter, Tonia. The two had rarely seen each other after Tonia had gone to live with Terry Kucera, but they had been talking by phone more often.
Friends of Sonia's are dubious of the last-minute rapprochement with Tonia and of Tonia's decision to sue for part of the railroad settlement. They say that Sonia never had anything good to say about her daughter and was convinced she didn't deserve any of her money. "Suddenly she's a caring daughter?" Rachetts asks. "Guess who wasn't ever there? Sonia once told me, 'Make sure Tonia never gets her hands on my jewelry. She'll hawk it all.'"
Tonia Kucera declines to comment about her relationship with her mother. But at the preliminary hearing in October, she told the court that the last time she and her mother talked, Sonia was out of breath getting to the phone. Sonia blamed it on an anxiety attack, not her weight. However, she also told her daughter that she had recently fallen off the toilet and had to wait for Mike's return to get back up.
Tonia testified that Sonia also told her Mike was spending more time at home to care for her, but that he actually spent little time with her. More often, Tonia quoted her mother as saying Mike was out walking his four dogs.
"She told me she didn't want to live anymore," Tonia said. "I told her I didn't want to hear that kind of talk. She told me that she had no one to love her. Not me, not Mike. She said that if she died, people would think of her in passing, but she wouldn't be remembered, it wouldn't be a big thing to us."
By Rudine's fourth visit on January 31, 1995, Sonia was worse. Rudine says her breath came in gasps, her lips were purple and she had a large bruise on her arm. "She seemed shaky," Rudine said. "I asked how she was doing. She gasped, 'Not good at all.' She looked to me like she needed to be hospitalized."
Rudine later testified that she didn't think Sonia was in imminent danger but asked her if she would go to a hospital. Sonia told her that she didn't believe in doctors and would allow only Dr. Shapiro to pay her a house call.
Rudine asked again about Mike. "Things were getting much worse," Rudine testified. Sonia, she said, told her "he had been yelling at her and insulting her a lot." The couple had gone through marriage counseling before and had had some success with it; Sonia wanted to try again, but Mike didn't. "Part of her really wanted help," Rudine said, "but she was afraid of going out."
But Rudine said nothing to Mike, figuring that he "knew what was going on; he lived with her." A week before Sonia's death, says Schild, Mike put in a call to a local hospital seeking medical attention for Sonia because she was falling down more regularly. But she called the hospital afterward and declined treatment.
The next day, Wednesday, February 1, Rudine tried calling the Graingers to confirm that Shapiro would visit that Thursday. Rudine says the line was busy for an hour and a half and she couldn't get through. She tried one last time at around 9:30 p.m.
The Boulder Fire Department got Mike Grainger's 911 call at 8:01 a.m. on February 2. Paramedics could do nothing to revive Sonia. Police were dispatched a few minutes later.
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.
But Cohen doesn't think there was anything in those depositions that could be used against his client. The depositions, he says, were filled with "tiny little bullshit things, nothing of any substance."
Since charges were filed against him in September, Mike Grainger hasn't done much to further his own cause. He's had several run-ins with the law, including a blowup in court at the preliminary hearing in October. The flash point came during Tonia's testimony, when she told the court that her mother told her Mike treated her "twice as bad as my dad ever did."
At that point Mike exploded, standing up in the courtroom and calling Tonia a "fucking bitch" several times.
The judge told him to stay seated. Sheriff's officers restrained him. "Let me go!" he shouted.
"Will you relax?"
"Get off my chest!"
"Get off my fucking chest, you hear me?" On the audio transcript, Grainger sounds desperate.
The judge finally had Mike removed from the courtroom.
Looking back at the incident, Mike says the "anger has been building for a long time. I don't deal with it. I just put the anger in my gut. It just comes out sometimes."
This past November, Boulder police were summoned to Mike's house after he allegedly called a social worker and threatened suicide. Police set up a perimeter around his home, but Mike wouldn't talk to them except to call them "fucking pigs," according to police reports.
The cops left but returned the next evening after a neighbor phoned in a complaint about a gun being fired. Police never recovered a gun from the house, and other neighbors say they never heard a gunshot.
However, Mike was arrested the next day in Lafayette and charged with resisting arrest and reckless discharge of a firearm. He spent a week in jail. Mike says the police are harassing him. "Their minds were made up from day one," he says. "If I'd done that [killed Sonia], I'm not gonna make no damn story up. What they say happened didn't happen. I think it will go to a murder trial, but I hope it don't go that far."
These days Mike Grainger takes care of his dogs. He goes to the Grizzly Rose on Saturday nights sometimes and dances to country music. The dancing "works for a week," he says. "Then I feel like I'm back, trying to get by the pain."
He says he'll never remarry, that he's looking for "just somebody to talk with, someone to be friends." Mostly he waits for his arraignment, which is scheduled for February 5. If convicted on the murder charge, he could be sentenced to anywhere from 16 to 48 years in prison.
Elaine and Richard Wade say they don't believe Mike killed Sonia, but the future they paint for him is grim nonetheless. "I know he has money from his settlement, but after all this, [the lawyers] will strip him of every dime," says Richard. "He's gonna end up in an institution. I just know it."
For now, it's that time of year again for Mike Grainger: February, the month of his wife's death, the month of the accident that sent his and Sonia's lives into a downward spiral.
"I have enough pain down there to last a lifetime," Mike says. "Enough anger to last a hundred lifetimes. Just keep it to myself.