DNA evidence from a bite mark had put authorities on Wilson's trail, and he was eventually convicted of the crime — but he appealed based on at least one unusual contention.
Wilson maintained that prosecutors had failed to present enough evidence that he'd sexually assaulted Gruenwald before killing her, maintaining that she had lowered her pants to urinate rather than him pulling them down. And since the sexual assault was the predicate offense to felony murder, he argued that the entire conviction should be tossed out.
Now, however, the Colorado Court of Appeals has rejected this assertion and others in a ruling on view below.
As we reported, Gruenwald was a former Oklahoma State softball player with a bright future ahead of her when she was brutally stabbed to death.
According to the arrest affidavit also shared here, Gruenwald and some friends had hung out on the evening of August 20, 2004, at a bar called the Wave. She told them about a party in the vicinity of 13th Avenue and Humboldt Street, and they eventually dropped her off close by, even though they couldn't find where the bash was taking place.
The following morning, Denver Police received a call from a man who'd gone outside to grab his newspaper and spotted a body alongside his Lafayette Street house. The victim, later identified as Gruenwald, was lying on her back, with blood under her head and a stained pocket knife on the ground nearby. Her pants were unbuckled, unzipped and slightly pulled down. Also found: a black duffel bag.
Marijuana Deals Near You
Surveillance video from a nearby Dollar Store was subsequently analyzed, and cops spotted a black male carrying a duffel bag like the one left near Gruenwald's body in footage from the evening before. But the key find was a bite mark on the victim's left wrist, which personnel from the crime lab swabbed in order to preserve any possible DNA evidence.
The DNA profile was later uploaded into CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System. And on April 11 of 2011, Denver cops learned it scored a hit with Wilson, a transient who'd recently been arrested in San Francisco. Wilson had five arrests in Denver between 2004 and late spring 2005, for crimes such as possession of drug paraphernalia and panhandling — the first on August 31, 2004, approximately ten blocks from where Gruenwald's body had been discovered.
The only problem, Denver District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough told us for our original post, was that Wilson had already been released; he was taken into custody on February 9, 2011, but let go on February 28. At that point, Kimbrough noted, "the officer asked, 'Can you go back and find him and take him into custody?'" — which they did.
"Without California taking DNA at the time of his arrest, he wouldn't have been identified," Kimbrough said, pointing out that Colorado hadn't regularly acquired DNA samples from those arrested until 2010. "The DNA from our victim has been up there since 2004, just waiting for a match. And we finally got one."
The assorted evidence against Wilson convinced a jury to find him guilty of felony murder and kidnapping. But Wilson maintained that the convictions should be tossed because sexual assault hadn't been proven.
"Wilson alleged that the victim was intoxicated when he encountered her and that she had unbuckled and unzipped her pants to urinate in the breezeway where she was eventually found," the appeals court judgment notes, adding, "The medical examiner testified that the victim’s bladder was 'pretty full' and that most people with a bladder that full would feel the need to urinate. An expert witness stated that 'it is possible' that the victim unzipped her pants to urinate in the breezeway and that in a typical sexual assault case, the victim’s pants would be much lower. As well, a fireman, who was among those who arrived on the scene first, testified that the victim’s shirt was 'closer to being down rather than all the way up' and that the paramedics had lifted the victim’s shirt to check for wounds."
However, the document states that "Wilson presented no evidence to dispute or explain the bruising on the victim’s body — particularly on her inner thighs." As such, "the jury could have reasonably concluded, based on the victim’s unbuckled and unzipped pants, body positioning, and significant bruising, particularly on her inner thighs, that Wilson took a substantial step toward sexually assaulting her."
Hence, his conviction was upheld.
Continue to see a larger version of Wilson's latest booking photo, followed by the appeals court ruling and the original arrest affidavit.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.