ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Denali Brehmer, an Alaska teen charged with murdering Cynthia Hoffman with the help of four friends and at the request of a mysterious online “millionaire” is now also facing federal child pornography charges that were revealed as the murder case unfolded.
Denali Brehmer appears in state court June 18, 2019. (KTUU)
Federal and state officials held a press conference Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the federal indictment against Brehmer was released, and after three Alaska-based defendants were arraigned and pleaded not guilty to state murder charges.
The state and federal charges both arose during the investigation of the death of 19-year-old Cynthia Hoffman, whose body was found near Thunderbird Falls in Anchorage after her killing on June 2.
New federal court documents released Tuesday detail additional federal child pornography charges for both Darin Schilmiller, 21, of New Salisbury, Indiana, and Brehmer, 18, of Anchorage.
According to those documents, Schilmiller and Brehmer are now both charged with five federal counts related to child pornography: one count of conspiracy to produce child pornography; one count of production of child pornography; two counts of receipt and distribution of child pornography; and one count of coercion and enticement of a minor. Regarding the latter three charges, Schilmiller is charged with receipt of child pornography and coercion of a minor, while Brehmer faces the distribution portion of the charge.
Initial federal charges against Schilmiller indicated that he’d posed as a man named “Tyler” on the Internet and convinced Brehmer to take and send pornographic images and videos of an 8- or 9-year-old girl, and to sexually assault a 15-year-old, and send images of that as well.
U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder outlined the possible sentences for the federal child pornography cases, with the lesser number in each charge representing a mandatory minimum sentence: 15-30 years for conspiracy to produce child pornography; 15-30 years for production; 5-20 years for the distribution and receipt of child pornography; 10 years to life for coercion and enticement of a minor.
Earlier Tuesday, Brehmer and two other Alaskan defendants being charged as adults were arraigned on their murder indictments. Brehmer, Kayden McIntosh, 16, who is accused of pulling the trigger, and Caleb Leyland, 19, accused of participating in the plot and loaning Brehmer and McIntosh his vehicle, said little in court, but pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Schilmiller and two juveniles also face murder charges. Alaska Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore said in the state of Alaska, juveniles can be charged as adults directly if they are 16 or older, like McIntosh. For juveniles under 16, prosecutors must petition the court to charge in adult court.
Skidmore said even if a decision on the two other young people has been made, it would not be made public until the court has decided to allow it. Some cases, he says, have taken from a couple of months to decide, to more than a year.
The state charges against Schilmiller allege that he posed as a millionaire named “Tyler” on the Internet, and offered Brehmer $9 million to rape and murder someone – and to send him photos and video of the crime. He’s still in Indiana and is in the process of being extradited to Alaska – likely sometime in early July, federal officials said.
As to whether federal murder charges were considered, Schroder said prosecutors don’t discuss potential charging decisions. “I think the murder charge in this case is appropriately with the state,” he said.
In the state courtroom Tuesday afternoon, Edie Grunwald, the mother of David Grunwald, a 16-year-old who was killed and left in a riverbed by a group of teens in 2016 – two of whom have been convicted of the crime, and two more still facing trial – came to support Timothy Hoffman, Cynthia Hoffman’s father.
“I don’t know Mr. Hoffman, I didn’t know his daughter, but so many people didn’t know us, or my son,” Grunwald said. “It just meant a lot to me, so I hope I was just able to give him a little bit of that appreciation that I had when people did that for me, and still do.”
Hoffman said he didn’t know about the Grunwald case until he met Grunwald Tuesday.
“I didn’t know about Ms. Grunwald, but as to what I’m going through, I know what she went through,” Hoffman said Tuesday outside the courthouse. “All I know is that lady did not deserve what she went through and she still stuck through the process.”
“My heart goes out to Ms. Grunwald and I’m glad she was there to support me and my child, and I’m glad she sat by my side,” he continued.
Grunwald’s best advice for Timothy Hoffman’s road ahead: Patience.
“I was told that in the beginning. You don’t realize that it’s a long process, especially when you have a group this size,” Grunwald said.
Grunwald didn’t rush to lump the two killings into the same category. She said the high number of defendants and youth – though in her son’s case, most of the defendants were under 18 when the crime was committed – were the similar factors.
“I would say you’ve got evil, that crosses over with stupid and crosses over with bad and crosses over with psychopath, and crosses over with something else, who knows?” she said. “What do you do? Who’s even to expect that all that would intersect like that to come to this type of conclusion?”
Channel 2's Beth Verge, Jill Burke and Taylar Perez also contributed to this story.
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