Reginald Griffin Exonerated on Friday 30th October of 1983 Murder–Becomes 4th Person Sentenced to Death and Found Wrongly Convicted in Missouri
Kansas City, October 30–Reginald Griffin has always insisted he did not murder James Bausley, a fellow inmate at the Moberly prison, in 1983–a crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death. Missouri officials at least indirectly acknowledged Griffin has been telling the truth: on Friday, Randolph County’s prosecutor notified the Court he was dismissing murder charges against Griffin, ending speculation of a possible re-trial. Griffin becomes the fourth person sentenced to death in Missouri and exonerated since 1999. He is the 143rd individual nationwide since 1973 and the first person this year to have been found wrongly convicted after receiving a death sentence, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). “Reggie and his family are overjoyed. This has been a massive weight upon them all for three decades,” said Cyndy Short, lead attorney who has represented Griffin. “For us, it was a real team effort which included Dion Sankar and Laura VanNote. And sadly,” she reflected, “without our aggressive litigation, my fear is that the injustice would have persisted.”
“We are elaated that justice is finally taking place for Reggie,” says Rita Linhardt, Chair of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (MADP). “We applaud the concerted efforts over the years by attorneys Cyndy Short, Kent Gipson and others. Missouri officials took the right course of actio in dropping charges in this case. Justice as already been delayed too long; the people of Missouri would a have been ill-served by dragging this painful case out one more day.”
The Missouri Supreme Court in August 2011 overturned Griffin’s murder conviction, ruling “it is no longer worthy of confidence.” Citing state officials for withholding exculpatory evidence that could have helped fortify Griffin’s claim of innocence at trial, the Court directed him released or retried. Adair County Judge Russell Steele, appointed by the state’s high court to oversee the case, released Griffin on his own recognizance in December 2012. Since then, he has been living in Kansas City working part-time, awaiting the prosecutor’s decision.
Randolph County Prosecutor Mike Fusselmann had indicated on several occasions over the past two years he would re-charge Griffin with the 1983 murder. However this past Friday, Fusselmann instead filed a “Memorandum of Nolle Prosequi” in the county court, indicating his intention to cease further prosecution against him. The document said, “The State also recognizes the responsibility of a prosecutor to not proceed with charges if he or she does not believe there remains sufficient available evidence . . . to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the State dismisses the information against the Defendant in this case.”
No physical evidence implicated Griffin in the murder. An appellate attorney discovered prosecutors withheld from trial counsel critical evidence: a report that guards had confiscated a sharpened screwdriver from another inmate, Jeffrey Smith, as he was attempting to leave the area where the stabbing occurred. The murder happened while Griffin was in prison serving a sentence for robbery. Two other prisoners were charged for their role in the murder, though Griffin was the only one sentenced to death. Juries convicted Doyle Franks of second-degree murder and acquitted Arbary Jackson. Franks admitted that he, and not Griffin, stabbed Bausley. He reiterated that admission at the September 2012 hearing to consider releasing Griffin. Both Franks and Jackson consistently have said Griffin was not the third person involved in the stabbing–rather it was Smith. He was convicted of a weapons violation for possessing the knife, but was never questioned, much less charged, in Bausley’s murder.
The state’s initial case rested solely on the testimony of two prisoners who benefited in exchange for their cooperation. Investigators locked five suspected inmates in isolation soon after the stabbing. They sent in Paul Curtis, an inmate anxious to gain protection from sexual predators at the Moberly prison. Franks bragged about committing the murder, Curtis reported to investigators. That revelation didn’t fit however with their theory of Griffin’s guilt. Officials sent him back into the prison’s general population. The next time he met with investigators, days later, Curtis cooperatively claimed he saw Griffin stab Bausley. Several years after testifying in trials against the three men, Curtis recanted, saying he never witnessed the murder. He admitted receiving a transfer to another prison, money, and a TV in trade for his testimony. The other informant, Wyonne Mozee, claimed in an affidavit to be an eyewitness but died before the trials. Two individuals testified that Mozee was elsewhere in the prison when the stabbing occurred and told them he worked with prosecutors to secure an early release date from prison in exchange for his testimony.
The Missouri Supreme Court, during a 1993 hearing, learned that trial prosecutors had hidden exculpatory information about Smith possessing the weapon and erroneously used the much longer criminal record of a different Reginald Griffin as an aggravating factor in pursuing the death sentence and that Curtis had recanted his earlier testimony. Faced with an eroding case, Fusselmann withdrew the state’s call for the death penalty. Unfortunately, the Court was not considering issues of innocence, just sentencing, so the judges ordered him re-sentenced to life in prison without parole for 50 years.
“Prosecutors have a higher burden than anyone in our justice system,” stressed Short. “When they will not take an honest look at cases, they develop tunnel vision. Their job is to do justice. When they hide evidence, they’re failing to protect all of us.” Linhardt additionally commented, “Reggie’s case reminds us that mistakes are inevitably made in our justice system–and underscores why Missouri should repeal the death penalty. The legislature and governor should at the least institute common-sense reforms recommended by the 2012 American Bar Association (ABA) study, including barring the pursuit of a death sentence if informant testimony constitutes the extent of evidence against a defendant, like in Reggie’s case.” She concluded, “Thirty years of life–essentially stolen by shoddy investigation and prosecution–cannot be returned to Reggie. Restitution is in order. At least he is alive and finally truly free.”
Griffin joins three other men, sentenced to death in Missouri and subsequently exonerated after being found wrongly convicted: Clarence Dexter (1999), Eric Clemmons (2000), and Joe Amrine (2003).
Missouri officials plan to execute Joseph Franklin on Nov. 20. While there’s no issue of innocence, he retains as a human being a fundamental right to life, MADP asserts.
For more information contact:
Cyndy Short, attorney for Reggie Griffin, 816-931-2229
Rita Linhardt, Board Chair of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, 573-635-7239