Jamie Griffin's killer begs jurors for his life Whittlesey breaks 11 years of silence

April 17, 1993|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

DENTON -- Convicted killer Michael Whittlesey broke 11 years of silence yesterday with a lengthy public appeal for mercy from jurors who will decide whether he'll be executed or sentenced to life in prison for the 1982 slaying of his friend Jamie Griffin.

"If you return the punishment of death, so be it," said Whittlesey, who paced the courtroom floor in steps hobbled by leg irons. "But I'm begging you to return the punishment of life."

A Caroline County jury convicted Whittlesey, now 29, on two counts of first-degree murder on May 29. The same jury is expected to begin deliberating his sentence Monday when it returns to court for the final phase of the trial.

Whittlesey is serving a 25-year prison sentence for 1984 robbery and theft convictions in the case.

On April 2, 1982, Whittlesey and his 17-year-old friend Jamie drove to a secluded section of Gunpowder Falls State Park in Baltimore County.

Whittlesey subsequently was found guilty of stealing Jamie's car and other possessions, but the Joppatowne resident was never charged with murder until Jamie's buried remains were discovered in the park in 1990. Whittlesey declined to testify in both of his trials.

Whittlesey broke his long silence during a nearly two-hour allocution -- an address to the jury of seven men and five women. Removing the forest-green jacket he had worn during most of the trial, Whittlesey walked back and forth in the stuffy courtroom, glancing at notes he had prepared in his prison cell and occasionally thumping his hand on several of the thick documents that had been presented as evidence.

"I may seem a bit nervous. I may even stutter," he told the jury. "I'm not familiar at all with speaking in front of people."

But for the next 113 minutes, Whittlesey displayed a showmanship that kept the courtroom fixed. He jammed his hands into his pockets, then pulled them out to emphasize a point. Three times he referred to Jamie as "my best friend." He repeatedly told jurors that his life lay in their hands.

"I certainly don't want to die," he said, pushing a hand through his hair during one of his most dramatic scenes. "I don't want to be strapped down and breathe the cyanide gas, the cyanide capsules rolling down the chute into the sulfuric acid."

Whittlesey asked the jury to consider the college courses he has taken in prison and his relatively clean record as an inmate as evidence that he seeks to improve himself and is not dangerous.

And he pleaded with the jury to consider that he was only 18 back in 1982, when Jamie died.

"I was a foolish person," he said. "I was the idiot." He said that he has matured in prison and realizes that as a youth he had never shown love for his family. "I had a problem," he said. "I don't know how to label that problem -- a child without emotion? A child without respect? I don't know."

Although he said he wished he could "rewrite" what happened on April 2, 1982, he never expressed an apology or sympathy to Jamie's parents, who sat in the back of the courtroom.

Whittlesey never said how Jamie died, but he strongly suggested it was not a murder by reading to the jury part of an obituary of a Washington-area man who suffered a fatal asthma attack. Jamie, a slight youth 5 feet 3 inches tall, had chronic asthma nearly all his life, according to testimony.

Prosecutors said the 6-foot-7-inch Whittlesey, who towered over his friend, delivered fatal blows to Jamie's head and stabbed him in the torso.

Whittlesey said he is unsure exactly what happened in the state park because he was high on LSD he had gotten from Jamie. He said he recalls being frightened and unable to walk in a straight line, but he provided no more details for the jury.

"We were using LSD on April 2, 1982," he said. "I was stupid. I was foolish. I was wrong. But I can't take that back."

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