Almost two years ago on August 2, 2011 the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the murder conviction of Reginald Griffin finding that the State had withheld exculpatory evidence and that post-trial developments had made the evidence upon which the conviction occurred “unworthy of confidence.”
In 1983 Reginald Griffin was serving time in the Missouri Department of Corrections in Moberly, Missouri. On July 12, 1983 a fellow inmate was stabbed in the prison yard. He died within minutes of the assault. His death was the beginning of a co-occurring tragedy when hours later prison guards took Reginald Griffin out of his cell, cuffed him and delivered him to administrative segregation. Five other inmates were also locked up that night and among them was the person who had, in fact, fatally stabbed James Bausley.
The prison investigator, however, focused his murder investigation on the wrong man eventually leading to the wrongful conviction of Reggie Griffin.
Within hours of the men arriving in administrative segregation the lead investigator sent in a snitch to wrestle a confession out one of the targeted inmates. The informant had been locked up with the target in the past and the target was known to be loose lipped. The informant was a vulnerable inmate who was looking for protection against predatory inmates, he was also mentally ill and a known liar.
He arrived in his cell next to his target and after the 2 men shared a joint, his target “sang like a bird” admitting that he had in fact killed inmate Bausley by plunging a 12” shank into the man’s chest. The informant reported back to the investigator only to learn that he had no interest in the man who had just confessed; he wanted another inmate named Reginald Griffin. He sent his informant back into population to give this some thought. It did not take long before the informant re-thought his role in the prosecution, and the next time he came forward he made himself a witness to the fatal event. He told the investigator in their second meeting that he had witnessed the murder and better yet he had seen Reggie Griffin stab the inmate in the chest. Five years later this false testimony was repeated in Mr. Griffin’s murder trial and the jury convicted him and then sentenced him to death.
The use of snitch testimony such as the kind concocted here has been the leading cause of wrongful convictions across the country.
Years later, the informant admitted he had lied and that he had been told what to say by the prison investigator. Shortly after Mr. Griffin’s trial and after his own capital trial the inmate who had killed inmate Bausley came forward and told the court under oath that 1) he was the person who had inflicted the fatal blow; and 2) that Mr. Griffin was not involved nor was he on the yard at the time of the homicide. Despite these confessions Mr. Griffin has had to fight for 25 years to undo the conviction that first sent him to death row in 1989. He has served everyday of the time he owed the state for the crimes that brought him to prison and he should not serve one more day for a murder committed by another inmate. It is time for the State of Missouri through the Attorney General’s office to fulfill its obligation and to serve justice by ending this wrongful prosecution of Reginald Griffin.
My name is Cynthia Short and I am a trial lawyer in Kansas City. I was asked one year ago to provide pro bono representation to a man whose case had been overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court. I receive these types of requests frequently, but this would be only the second time I agreed to step in without any fee because it was simply the right thing to do.
Our justice system is, in my view, the best in the world. However the dawn of DNA has revealed ways in which we have, at times, failed to protect the innocent accused. The DNA exonerations have exposed the ways in which our system can fail. One of the ways we fail is when we rely on the testimony of informants, and when investigators zealously but erroneously pursue the wrong person. Mr. Griffin is the victim of our system. His case and his experience has all the telltale signs of a wrongful conviction.
Importantly, his case has been reviewed by the appeal courts for many years and slowly the injustices that occurred were corrected. First, in 1993 the Missouri Supreme Court reversed Mr. Griffin’s penalty phase as a result of the prosecutor’s use of aggravation evidence that was purported to be conduct of the Mr. Griffin, but in fact, were the wrongful acts of another man. The local prosecutor reviewed the case and before the penalty re-trial faced several truths: 1) the wrong evidence had been used to secure a death sentence; 2) the man who had committed the murder had fully confessed, and 3) Mr. Griffin was and always had been unwavering in his pleas of innocence. The local prosecutor withdrew the death notice and Mr. Griffin was returned to prison on a life without parole for 50 years sentence.
However, as he promised that day in 1993 as he stood before the judge “I will continue to fight. I am innocent.” And he did fight. For the next 18 years he patiently pursued all of his legal options, until finally in August 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court threw out his conviction. It was thrown out because they found the state had withheld exculpatory evidence, and the post trial investigation had revealed the identity of the true killer, had led to the recantation of the state’s key informant, and the impeachment of the other informant. There was, they pronounced, nothing “worthy of confidence” left to support the conviction.
Yet, with no evidence to re-try the case, a notice to re-try the case was filed. And now two years have passed, the state has failed to provide one shred of evidence implicating Mr. Griffin and he has patiently waited in jail, and now on house arrest, his sentences long since served. On his behalf I ask you, as the State’s lead lawman to end this prosecution once and for all. Mr. Griffin has served 30 years for a crime he did not commit. Let him live in peace with the freedom to rebuild his life with his wife, mother, son, family and friends. It is the right thing to do.