DENTON -- Baltimore County prosecutors are asking a jury to sentence convicted killer Michael Whittlesey to death because he murdered his friend Jamie Griffin during a premeditated robbery 11 years ago in a secluded part of Gunpowder Falls State Park.
But defense lawyers, who claim Whittlesey grew up in a troubled family where physical abuse and alcoholism were commonplace, pleaded with jurors yesterday that the 29-year-old defendant be spared the death penalty and instead be sentenced to life in prison.
Two weeks after a Caroline County jury found Whittlesey guilty of killing 17-year-old Jamie on April 2, 1982, jurors returned to the courtroom yesterday for the first of what could be several days of arguments and testimony about what should happen to Whittlesey.
Whittlesey was convicted of robbery and theft in 1984 and is serving a 25-year prison sentence.
He was not charged with Jamie's death until 1990, shortly after the youth's remains were discovered in a shallow grave in the park.
For the first time since the Whittlesey trial began in mid-March, jurors were offered personal glimpses into the backgrounds of both Jamie and Whittlesey.
At one time, they were thought to be close friends, although their lives seemed remarkably dissimilar beneath the exteriors of their middle-class upbringings in Baltimore County.
Jamie, a thin boy only 5 feet 3 inches tall, was a gifted musician who could hear a melody once and play it from memory on the piano, his mother, Lou Ellen Griffin, said yesterday.
Mrs. Griffin described her only child as a good student and as an energetic youth whose activities were slowed only by his asthma attacks.
"If I had any complaints about Jamie," she told the jury as part of her testimony on the impact his death had on the family, "it was that he was too trustful and a picky eater."
Mrs. Griffin said she and her husband, Norville, had difficulty accepting Jamie's death, even after his remains were discovered.
"The shining star of our lives has gone out and he was the sunshine of our life," she said.
"When the sunshine leaves, things dry up. It's very desolate now."
In contrast, Whittlesey grew up a troubled youth.
He watched his alcoholic parents fight and later divorce, said Thomas J. Saunders, the capital defense division chief of the state public defender's office.
The Whittlesey family has splintered, he said, with one of Michael Whittlesey's brothers an inmate in a Florida prison.
His two other siblings are living with little contact with each other.
"Even those who love you can hurt you," Mr. Saunders told the jury.