Three decades after being sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit, and more than two years after Missouri's Supreme Court threw out his murder conviction, Reggie Griffin has been finally exonerated.
On October 25, 2013, Randolph County prosecutor Mike Fusselman notified the court that, because of insufficient evidence, he would no longer seek Griffin's conviction for the 1983 murder of James Bausley, a fellow prisoner at the Missouri Training Center for Men in Moberly.
"To not have this over my head is more than what words can describe," said Griffin, 53, who was released from prison on his own recognizance in December 2012 while awaiting a new trial. "Now that it's over, I'm going to try to put my life back together."
Griffin, who was sent to prison in 1981 for armed assault, was convicted in 1987—despite a lack of physical evidence—of fatally stabbing Bausley in the back with a prison-made shiv after the two allegedly argued over a television. Prosecutors relied on the testimony of two prisoners who purportedly witnessed the murder and had agreed to testify in exchange for an early release or transfer to a different prison.
Disturbingly worse, Griffin was later sentenced to death by a jury after the state used the prior criminal record of another offender with the same name as an aggravating factor; once the mistaken identity was revealed, the death verdict was remanded and Griffin was given a life sentence.
In August 2011, Missouri's Supreme Court granted Griffin's petition for habeas corpus and vacated his murder conviction on the basis that the prosecution violated Brady v. Maryland, by withholding material evidence at his trial.
First, the court found that the state suppressed evidence; namely, that prison guards had confiscated a sharpened screwdriver from another prisoner just minutes after Bausley was stabbed. Second, that evidence was found to be favorable to Griffin "because it tends to exculpate him from the crime."
And, lastly, to satisfy the third prong of Brady, Griffin established prejudice by presenting both the prisoners who later recanted their testimony and fellow prisoner Doyle Franks' eventual confession during the course of Griffin's appeal for post-conviction relief that it was he who had murdered Bausley. See: Griffin v. Denney, 347 S.W.3d 73 (Mo. 2011).
Griffin was ordered discharged from the state's custody within 60 days, but Fusselman filed a new murder charge against Griffin eight weeks later, claiming new DNA evidence tied him to the weapon.
It took almost two years for Fusselman to ultimately declare that DNA tests on the screwdriver "didn't pan out."
"We humans are flawed," Cyndy Short, one of Griffin's attorneys, said after the charges were dismissed against him in October. "And those flaws have led to wrongful arrests, wrongful convictions and, unfortunately, this situation where time and time again you see prosecutors holding onto cases, even when the evidence of innocence is clear."
Sources: The Associated Press, www.stlamerican.com
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Related legal case
Griffin v. Denney
|347 S.W.3d 73 (Mo. 2011)