Nursing home employee is charged in slaying of patient, 95

June 21, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

In all likelihood, Michael Paul Griffith's desire to talk to police four months ago about "helping" a nursing home patient die helped them build a murder case -- against him.

After he asked a Carroll District judge for a postponement of his bail review yesterday, Mr. Griffith, 32, remained in the county jail on charges of first- and second-degree murder in the Dec. 29 death of a 95-year-old nursing home patient.

Mr. Griffith -- a Westminster man who used to be a nursing assistant at the Westminster Nursing and Convalescent Center -- was arrested Sunday morning and has been held without bail since then.

Police and prosecutors released little information about Carrie Marie Ecker, whose death had been attributed to natural causes until Mr. Griffith's Feb. 25 trip to the Westminster state police barracks, according to charging documents filed in Carroll District Court.

Mrs. Ecker's body was buried days after her death in the small cemetery behind Sam's Creek Church of the Brethren in New Windsor. State police ordered the body exhumed March 10 and, in an autopsy report completed Thursday, the chief medical examiner declared Mrs. Ecker's death a homicide.

Mr. Griffith walked into the Westminster state police barracks at about 7:25 p.m. Feb. 25 and told the duty officer that he "wanted to speak with someone about helping someone in a nursing home die," the charging documents say.

In a taped statement given to Tfc. John N. Reininger, Mr. Griffith "advised how he used a bed pillow to suffocate . . . Carrie Marie Ecker," the charging documents say.

While Trooper Reininger, Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman and the office of the chief medical examiner refused to disclose details of the autopsy, the charging documents say "during the autopsy injuries were discovered which would be consistent with the defendant's statement."

Mr. Griffith had been employed as a nursing assistant at the convalescent center "for only several months" at the time of Mrs. Ecker's death, said Nancy Stocks, the center's administrator. She said Mr. Griffith, like each of the nearly 125 nursing assistants, had undergone a background check before he was hired.

"We look into the backgrounds of everyone working here," Ms. Stocks said.

According to files in Carroll Circuit and District courts, Mr. Griffith has a mild record of nonviolent offenses stretching to 1987. Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. convicted him of stealing $79 in 1988, and of stealing $20 in a 1987 burglary. He also was convicted of a single misdemeanor drug possession charge in District Court in 1990.

About an hour after talking to state police Feb. 25 and being released, Mr. Griffith was pulled over as he drove along Center Street.

Court documents say he told the Westminster officer who stopped him that he had just consumed "12 beers." He was arrested and charged with drunken driving; that trial is pending.

When told briefly of his past record, Ms. Stocks said to a reporter, "You know more than I do."

Mrs. Ecker's death was routine and caused little concern among the 170 nursing home residents until her body was exhumed, Ms. Stocks said. Yesterday, she said, residents were a little worried and a bit shocked, but "everything was pretty much business as usual."

Little was known yesterday about Mrs. Ecker except that she was born in 1898, had been widowed and was survived by several nieces and nephews.

A report in the Carroll County Times yesterday quoted an unnamed relative of Mrs. Ecker's as saying she was terribly ill and unable to walk. Ms. Stocks would say only that Mrs. Ecker was a longtime resident of the nursing home.

Little was also known about Mr. Griffith, whose last known address was in the 100 block of Goldenrod Terrace.

Clyde Mitter, a roommate, said Mr. Griffith had lived there for about a month.

"He kind of kept to himself," Mr. Mitter said.

Mr. Griffith, through Carroll Sheriff John H. Brown, declined to be interviewed by a reporter yesterday. He is expected to be represented by the county public defender's office, which also declined to comment.

A bail review hearing is expected within a week or two.

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