have long been a proponent of capital punishment. Nothing has happened
to change that view even though a recent acknowledgment by St. Louis,
Missouri Circuit Prosecutor Jennifer Joyce has clearly established
that the State of Missouri may well have executed a man who was innocent
of the murder for which his life was taken by that State.
In my "death
penalty advocacy," I have also long advocated that we change the
appeals process of the criminal justice system to a policy of peer review
to "double check" the conduct of the court and the integrity
of both the prosecution and the defense to make sure that those accused
of murder receive not only a fair and impartial trial but an honest
one as well. Once an appellate court determined from the peer review
that the accused was honestly convicted, the sentence of the court would
thenand only thenbe carried out. Swiftly. No convicted
murderer would have the luxury of living on death row for 10 to 20 years,
using up taxpayer dollars filing an endless stream of appeals until
the US Supreme Court either permanently stayed the execution or granted
a new trial. And, while I would make capital murder a federal crime
with a mandatory death penalty, no person could face the death penalty
in a case in which the conviction hinged on circumstantial evidence;
could anyone be executed without a DNA match that proves, well beyond
a shadow of doubt, that he or sheand no one elseis guilty
of the crime for which he or she has been sentenced to death.
Griffin received such a trialand a peer review of the evidence
presented at his trialit is likely his conviction would have been
overturned. In any event, even if Griffin was not exonerated
by the peer review, there was no DNA evidence to examine, thus, under
my scenario, he could not have received the death sentence and would
still have been alive ten years after his execution when a curious prosecutor
reopened the case because some of the things she stumbled across screamed,
out loud, that Larry Griffin was not any of the three men in
a 1968 Chevy Impala who shot a 19-year old drug dealer and street gang-assassin
Quintin Moss 13 times on the corner of Sarah Avenue and Olive
Street in the crime-infested area of St. Louis known as "The Stroll"
on June 26, 1980, killing him almost instantly.
let me say this about Larry Griffin. He was a bad man. He needed
to be locked up and kept away from society. Not for killing Moss,
since he didn't kill him. Griffin, like Moss, was a career
criminal who fed on society like a leach. Society, quite bluntly, is
better off without either of them. But simply dismissing them as worthless
members of society does not mitigate what happened in "The Stroll"
that afternoon in June, 1980.
of justice in any society governed by the rule of law demands that the
justice system not deliberately frame bad people simply because they
are bad. If we were allowed to lock up bad people simply because they
were bad, there wouldn't be a politician left in Washington (since every
politician who takes a contribution from a special interest group or
lobbyist who has reasonable expectation of a quid pro quoeven
just accessis technically if not legally guilty of accepting a
bribe); and most of the justice system prosecutors who place winning
convictions over being honest brokers of the law would be, or should
be, in prison as well. Concealing evidence that would exonerate an accused
person is tantamount to stealing liberty from that person. Likewise,
manufacturing evidence to convict a person the prosecutoror the
police"knows in their guts" is guilty but can't prove,
is equally aberrant and simply cannot be tolerated in a democratic societyeven
if the person being framed needs to be in prison.
was a career criminal. First offenseMay 6, 1974. Griffin
was sentenced to the Missouri Dept. of Corrections for three
years for two burglaries. Released after one year. Nov. 10, 1975sentenced
to 3 years probation for stealing over $50,000. May 11, 1977convicted
of second degree burglary. Six months probation. Third offenseMay
19, 1977. Convicted of theft of less than $50,000. Sentenced to
30 days. His probation on the 1975 charge was revoked on June 4,
1977when he was convicted of felony possession of a controlled
substance and assault. He served a three year sentence for the felony
possession concurrent with the 1975 sentence. That, of course, is like
getting two birds with one stonefor the criminal.
later Griffin was back on the streetor, rather, he was
back in court. On April 11, 1979 he was sentenced to 10 years
for armed robbery and felony possession of a controlled substance. He
was simultaneously sentenced to 5 years for second degree burglary and
for carrying a concealed weapon. All sentences were concurrent. Griffin
should have served ten years. If he had, he'd probably still be alive.
Instead, he was out in one.
On June 26,
1980 three African-American males gunned down Quintin Moss at
4:25 p.m. at the intersection of Sarah Avenue and Olive Street in a
driveby shooting. Another black man, Wallace Conners, standing
about 75 feet away, was struck by a bullet, but lived.
One year to
the day later, on June 26, 1981based on the testimony of one "eyewitness"Larry
Griffin was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to die
by lethal injection. The only problem is, the police's eyewitness was
not at the intersection of Sarah Avenue and Olive Street at 4:25 p.m.
on June 26, 1980. Neither was Larry Griffin. He was helping a
family friend sell a canoe on the afternoon of June 26. However, according
to the prosecution, Griffin's alibi fell apart on the stand when
the prosecution was able to show that the date on the check for the
purchase of the boat was June 25. Griffin's family suggests the
buyer accidentally dated the check for the 25th instead of the 26th.
All of the parties involved in the sale of the canoe remembered the
transaction taking place on June 26.
at the "integrity" of the evidence used by the State of Missouri,
which used a police informant to convict Larry Griffin. First,
the 1968 Chevrolet Impala that was both described and identified as
the gunman's car was found later that night. Inside were the murder
weaponsone handgun and one rifle. Also found in the vehicle owned
by a drug dealers named Ronnie Thomas, was a traffic ticket made
out to Reginald Griffin, the 19-year old nephew of Larry Griffin.
Moss, the victim, had purportedly killed the Reggie's
father, Dennis GriffinLarry's brother. The prosecution
would argue, at Larry Griffin's trial, that Larry killed
Moss to revenge his brother's death. Somehow the prosecutor couldn't
find a motive for Reggie Griffin to kill Mosseven
though it was his father that was killed by the drug-dealing gang hit
Reggie Griffin and Ronnie Parker denied any knowledge
of the shooting. All three are now serving life without parole sentencesbut
not for killing Moss. According
to Gordon Ankney, the prosecutor who got the Larry Griffin
conviction, he didn't "feel comfortable" enough with the
evidence to prosecute Reggie Griffin and Thomas. "We
didn't have any witnesses to identify them," he said. "That's
what makes no sense about the [new] report [that names as suspects Reggie
Griffin, now 44; Thomas, now 50; and Ronnie Parker,
now 54 as the killers of Quintin Moss]. All three are
currently serving life sentences for murder."
claims there were no witnesses to the driveby except police informant
Robert Fitzgeraldwho claimed that his car broke down at
the intersection of Sarah and Olive earlier that afternoon and that
he and a friend and his 4-year old daughter were trying to get the car
started when the shooting occurred. Fitzgerald, then 36, said
he was 20 feet away from the assailant's car when the shooting started
and not only did he recognize Larry Griffin as one of the shooters,
he quickly memorized the license plateJPP 203while shots
were being fired at Moss. According to his own testimony,
Fitzgerald was then forced to shield the 4-year old with his
own body to keep her from being struck by flying bullets. Quite an amazing
guy. Ankney saw nothing wrong with Superman's testimony even
though no where in the police report from the scene was there a license
number for the shooter's car. The prosecutor's office didn't waste their
time interviewing any of the other witnesses who Ankney claims
did not exist. Instead, he chose to believe the one witness who was
never there. (Had the prosecutor's office taken the time to interview
any of the other witnesses, it would have realized that not only was
Fitzgerald was not there, neither was Larry Griffin.)
to everyone who was there, there were no white people anywhere near
the corner of Sarah and Olive around 4:30 p.m. on June 26, 1980.
Even St. Louis patrolman Michael Ruggerithe first police
officer to respond to the shootingsaid there was no white man
there. "He might have been down the block," he said
recently,. "He might have been across the street. He may have
beenyou know...I don't know where he was, but he wasn't there."
much more likely now, in hindsight, that someone Ruggeri does
not want to identify may have suggested to him that the reason
he didn't see Fitzgerald was because the good Samaritan was trying
to give Mosswho had died almost instantlymedical
attention (even though first aid generally doesn't help people who are
dead), and that was probably why Ruggeri didn't "see him."
Unfortunately, when Ruggeri testified at the trial of Larry
Griffin, that fabrication became all the corroboration the prosecution
needed to confirm Fitzgerald's testimony. Ruggeri put
him at the scene even though he now acknowledges that Fitzgerald
was not there.
Conners (now 52), was interviewed by the police at the hospital
where he was being treated for a gunshot wound in his right buttocks.
Remember, he was the only witness Ruggeri interviewed at the
scene. It was Conners who describedand later identifiedthe
Chevy Impala. Within 30 minutes of the shooting, the police were showing
Conners a photo of Larry Griffin and asking if he was
the shooter. Conners said he was not. Conners was never
called as a witness in the shooting. In fact, shortly after he was released
from the hospital, Conners left St. Louis. "Fitzgerald
wasn't there when it happened," Conners told reporters
last week when they found him. "If he had been, he would have
been shot just like everybody else."
When he was
contacted by St. Louis prosecutor Jennifer Joyce and questioned
about Fitzgerald, Conners was clear in his mind that there
was no white man at that intersection. The Stroll was an all-black neighborhood.
A white person would have stood out like a sore thumb. Patricia
Moss Mason, the
sister of Quintin Moss, told investigators that she watched the
shooting of her brother from a nearby window. There was no white
man anywhere around the crime scene. Walter Moss, Quinton's
brother, contacted the prosecutor's office several times between the
time of the shooting and the conviction of Larry Griffin to tell
them his sister had witnessed the shooting. Moss and
his sister were ignored by the St. Louis prosecutor's office. No
one called. No one took her statement. The prosecutor, Moss said,
had the attitude that they didn't need him because they knew everything
they needed to know to convict Griffin. It seemed to Moss
and Conners that the authorities were more interested in convicting
Griffin than they were at getting at the truth. The question
had Thomas's car. Evidence found inside the car tied both Thomas
and Reggie Griffin to the car the night of the shooting. Parker
was seen with Thomas and Griffin that day. A forensic
examination of the Impala would probably have tied all three of them
to the crime. Yet, the police were content to let them go and charge
State of Missouri will view this as a case of nothing more sinister
than overzealous prosecution, someone in the St. Louis police department
wanted Larry Griffin for this crime. They wanted him bad enough
to fabricate an eye witness. Whomever brought Fitzgerald forward
as the sole eyewitness of the shooting at the corner of Sarah and Olive
on June 26, 1980 needs to be charged with first degree manslaughter
in the wrongful death of Larry Griffin.
who was 36 at the time of the shooting, had been serving time for heroin
possession, auto theft, armed robbery and possession of burglary tools.
He was also facing four charges of credit card fraud. On June 26, 1980
Robert Fitzgeraldwhom logic suggests would have been in
police custodywas supposedly staying in a St. Louis motel under
the federal witness protection program waiting to testify against a
former associate who were about to stand trial for the murder of a Boston
police officer. Yet at 4:30 that day, the prosecution was asking the
jury to believe that Fitzgeraldwho still had unserved prison
time in front of himwas driving around St. Louis without a police
escort. The day Griffin was convicted, Fitzgerald was
released from custody by St. Louis County authorities for time served.
five months later Fitzgerald testified against his former crony
in the death of the Boston cop. The jury flatly rejected Fitzgerald's
testimony as bogus and acquitted the defendant. Too
bad the St. Louis jury that tried Larry Griffin for the crime
very likely committed by his brother and two acquaintances wasn't as
conviction and sentencing, Griffin's lawyer filed for a new trial
on Aug. 7, 1981. The motion was denied. Four days later a notice of
appeal was filed. The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed Griffin's
conviction on Dec. 20, 1983, confirming that they believed he had received
a fair trial. On Oct. 1, 1984 the US Supreme Court denied certiorari.
They believed he had a fair trial, too. On Nov. 16, 1984 Griffin's
lawyer filed a Rule 27.26 motion for post-conviction relief in
the Circuit Court of St. Louis City. On Feb. 23, 1987 the motion was
denied. On Feb. 15, 1988 the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the
denial of post-conviction relief. On June 3, Griffin filed a
petition for writ of habeas corpus in the US District Court for
the Eastern District of Missouri. It was denied on July 16, 1990. That
decision was appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit
and was rejected on Oct. 11, 1991. Griffin, an innocent man,
was running out of optionsand time.
On July 16,
1992 Griffin got his first break. The 8th Circuit remanded the
case back to the District Court for further proceedings. On Oct. 6,
1993 the District Court conducted an evidentiary hearing. The hearing
concluded on Oct. 25 when Griffin's petition for a writ of habeas
corpus was denied. The case went back to the 8th Circuit, which
again remanded it back to the District Court which, again, denied the
writ. This time, the 8th Circuit affirmed the District Court's denial.
Time had pretty
much run out for Griffin. On May 15, 1995 the US Supreme Court
denied certiorari. The struggle had reached its end.
didn't believe it. One of the last public comments made by Larry
Griffin went to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter. "I
suspect my life will end soon if the State should have its way,"
Griffin wrote. "I am no angel, but nor do I deserve to
lose my life for a murder I did not commit." Griffin was
executed on June 21, 1995 by lethal injection. While he was very
likely guilty of many crimes for which he was never punished, Larry
Griffin was innocent of the crime for which the State of Missouri
took his life.
State screws up and executes the wrong person, how do they fix it? How
does the State restore to Larry Griffin the life they took from him?
At times we believe the States thinks it is God since many of the bureaucrats
within the system believe the State possesses the power of life and
death. In reality, it has only the power of death. it can't correct
its mistakes when it screws up.
It is likely
that the Griffin case will be used as a moratorium on the death
penalty. It should not be. In the past, death penalty opponents have
only been able to argue the possibility that an innocent person could
be executed, not that one had been. Over the last two decades approximately
75 condemned men on death row have been exonerated by DNA testing, which
raises the question of how many innocent men were executed prior to
the advent of deoxyribonucleic acid testing to compare the double
helix genetic code of the accused with any trace genetic material found
at the crime scene. After all, we didn't just start locking up innocent
men in the last couple of years.
the anti-death penalty movement exists. What happens when you execute
an innocent man? You can't give him back his life when you discover,
after the execution, that he was innocent of the crime for which he
was put to death. The solution, however, is not to abolish the death
penalty since, if used properly, the death penalty can serve as a major
deterrent to capital offenses. The solution is to make sure an innocent
person is never executed again. Peer reviewhonest peer reviewwill
eliminate the possibility of executing an innocent man or woman in the
to peer review will argue that, on top of a costly trialsome of
which run into the millions of dollarspeer review is a needless
added expense that merely duplicates the investigative work done by
the State just prior to the trial. However, in the case of Larry
Griffin had an unbiased third party interviewed the witnesses they
would have learned [a] none of them saw Larry Griffin
in the Chevy Impala that gunned down Quintin Moss, and [b]
none of them saw a white man anywhere near the crime scene, meaning
the prosecution's witness, who was given his freedom by St. Louis County
officials for his testimony, was a ringer. If all of the real witnessesthose
interviewed at the crime scene and those who came forward within the
days to followcontradicted not only the testimony of the one state
witness but the fact that the witness was actually not a witness to
anything, [c] why did the county prosecutor, Gordon Ankney,
accept the testimony of a man who should have been a discredited witness,
and [d] why did he choose not to file charges against three men
which the evidence put at the scene of the crime? Independent peer review
by a board of investigators from outside St. Louis County might not
have solved the case, but it would have raised enough questions that
Griffin would have been granted a new trialoutside of St.
was not arrested until April 4, 1981almost a year after the crime
was committed, there would have been no forensics material to test,
nor was there any DNA material. The clothing worn not only by Griffin
but by his nephew, Thomas and Parker would have been washed
countless times in the ten months since the crime was committed, or
discarded and not available for "testing" a year later. The
fact that the police showed Connors a mugshot of Larry Griffin
and not Reggie Griffin, Thomas and Parker at the
hospital where he was being treated for his gunshot wound within a half
hour of the shooting suggests that whomever was in charge of the Moss
investigation had already decided that Larry Griffin was guilty.
As is far too often the case, shoddy police work and hasty judgments
combined with what we now know was the fabrication of evidence to "tie
up the loose ends" led to the arrest and conviction of the wrong
But that doesn't
excuse Ankney who, as the prosecutor, had a responsibility to
make sure every possible witness had been interviewed and any discrepancies
between each witnesses' version were resolved before the trial, and
that the names of conflicting witnesses were provided to the attorney
defending the accused. Wayne Moss, Wallace Conners and
Patricia Moss Mason
were never called to testifyfor either side. Yet Conners
not only has a clear recollection that Larry Griffin was not
in the Chevy Impala, he put Thomas, Reggie Griffin and
Parker in the Impala at 4:25 p.m. on June 26, 1980 at the intersection
of Sarah Avenue and Olive Street. This information was available to
the St. Louis police and the St. Louis prosecutor at the time of the
killing. Why did they choose to ignore it? For whatever reason, the
police had already decided, before the investigation began, that Larry
Griffin was the killer. Peer review by an unbiased third party would
have revealed that in 1981.
If peer review
of the police investigation did not shed any new light, the next step
in the peer review process would be to examine the professional conduct
of both the prosecutor and the defense attorney to make certain each
acted properly and that evidence that may have exonerated the accusedor
at least raised questions about his or her guilt or innocencewas
not concealed by the prosecution.
At the same
time, the judicial peer review panel (that would be comprised of three
judges from other jurisdictions, three prosecutors and three competent
defense attorneys, all from different jurisdictions) would evaluate
the competency of the defense offered by the accused's lawyer. The panel
would also review the judge's conduct during the trial and the evidentiary
rules put into place to admit or block certain pieces of evidence and
testimony. Because this would be a peer review and not a trial, the
panel would be allowed to examine any evidence not admitted to determine
if, by the admission of that evidence, a different verdict would likely
have been reached by the juryand whether the judge erred by not
admitting it. The findings of the peer review board would be automatically
submitted to the federal appellate court of jurisdiction for a ruling.
If the peer review uncovered exculpatory evidence that was not heard
by the juryeven if it was barred by the judgethe death sentence
would be permanently vacated. If the collection of evidence is found
to be suspect, or a trial error is uncovered, a new trial in another
jurisdiction would be ordered by the appellate court.
current system of justice, appeals must be based on the evidence offered
at the original trial, or on new evidencesuch as DNAthat
was not available at the time of the original trial (unless the defense
attorney raises an objection to the admission of prejudicial evidence
by the prosecution, or the refusal of the judge to admit evidence he
requires to prove the innocence of his or her client). The defense attorney
cannot reexamine the evidence and second guess the magistrate on appeal.
In other words, the appellate court will not let the defense retry the
case on appeal. The peer review system would obligate the appellate
court to do that very thing if the peer review board found irregularities
that suggested the accused did not receive a fair, impartial and most
of all, honest, trial.
If such a
peer review system existed, and everyone from the investigative officers
to the judges would know that their professional conduct was going to
be examined under a microscope at the end of the judicial journey, it
is likely that rushes to judgment would be greatly reduced and officers
of the court would cross all the "t's" and dot all of the
"i's" before taking a case to the jury and demanding the death
penalty for those accused of capital offenses. In the long run, it would
save each State countless billions of dollars from the countless appeals
filed by every condemned inmate in our penal systemand by eliminating
the cost incurred by the State to house condemned killers for 10 to
20 years or more while the appeals process plays out. Using the peer
review system with an unbiased review board that includes death penalty
opponents, the death sentences would be carried out within 30 to 90
days of the ruling of the appellate court without exception. The savings
to the States would be astronomical, and the families of the victims
would see justice done swiftly.
involved in the justice system who deal with other people's lives, must
be accountable to someone else for their actions. Today, that is not
the case. Tomorrow, because of Larry Griffin, it needs to be.
you have my two cents worth on this subject.