Suspect was in jail at time of slaying

March 29, 1995|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

Another article Wednesday reported incorrectly the activities of Arnold resident JoAnne Valentine the night she was killed. Mrs. Valentine had closed Rumblefish, one of the Pasadena nightclubs she and her husband owned. The article also reported incorrectly why Gilbert Griffin, who had been charged in her death, is in prison. He is serving a 10-year sentence for stealing the handgun that police say was used to kill Mrs. Valentine.

The Sun regrets the errors.

One of the two men charged in the 1993 slaying of an Arnold nightclub owner was in the Baltimore County Detention Center at the time of the crime, according to records obtained by the defendant's lawyers.

Gilbert E. Griffin, 42, of Baltimore was placed at the scene of the killing of JoAnne S. Valentine by a key prosecution witness. But Griffin was in jail from Aug. 30, 1993, until Sept. 28, 1993, when he was acquitted of theft charges in Baltimore County Circuit Court, said Pamela North, Griffin's lawyer.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Ms. North said yesterday that she sent a letter and certified copies of the detention center records to Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee, asking that the murder charges against Griffin be dismissed by Friday.

"I can't imagine that they'd go forward [with the case] at this point," Ms. North said.

This is the second time prosecutors have hit a roadblock in getting the case to trial.

Mrs. Valentine, 47, was gunned down on Sept. 26, 1993, in the driveway of her home in the 500 block of Broadwater Road after she closed the two nightclubs -- A. L. Gators and Rumblefish -- she operated with her husband.

Griffin and Edward W. McLeod, 44, were indicted in December on charges of first-degree murder, attempted robbery, assault with intent to commit robbery, conspiracy and handgun violations.

Griffin, who is serving a 10-year sentence on an unrelated theft conviction, was identified by Clarence D. Pittman as being with Mr. McLeod the night of the slaying.

Court records show Pittman, awaiting trial on armed carjacking charges, agreed to testify against Griffin and Mr. McLeod in exchange for prosecutors accepting his plea to a lesser count of robbery.

Pittman, 49, told police he was at Mr. McLeod's home when Mr. McLeod and Griffin returned from the killing, that he heard them discuss it and saw them put a handgun in the trunk of Mr. McLeod's car, said assistant public defender Carroll McCabe, Mr. McLeod's lawyer.

"He's [Pittman] saying these two guys were together when the murder occurred. How can that be true when one of the two guys he identifies was in jail at the time?" said Ms. McCabe.

She said Pittman also told police that he and Mr. McLeod were old friends, but could not pick her client's photo out of a lineup.

Mr. Weathersbee said yesterday that he was checking out the defense lawyers' claims and declined to discuss the case further.

But jail records exonerating Griffin represent a major blow to the prosecution.

Mr. McLeod, 44, of the 1800 block of Division St., Baltimore, was originally charged Nov. 10, 1993, as the lone suspect in the slaying. Police say the .32-caliber handgun they found in the trunk of his car proved to be the murder weapon. Mr. McLeod admitted that he stole the gun five months earlier from an Odenton gun shop, police say.

Mr. Weathersbee dropped the charges on Feb. 7, 1994, saying there was insufficient evidence to bring the case to trial, but vowed to continue the investigation.

Both Mr. McLeod and Griffin were indicted on Dec. 19, 1994, after Pittman implicated them in statements he gave to investigators while awaiting trial for kidnapping and armed robbery charges.

After Pittman made his deal with prosecutors last summer, he was released from jail to gather additional evidence in the case. Anne Arundel detectives checked Pittman into a Baltimore hotel, put a recording device on him and sent him back out on the streets, hoping he would find witnesses who had overheard the conversation.

Pittman disappeared and was picked up by police several weeks later.

Mark Blumberg, Mr. McLeod's public defender, criticized prosecutors for not checking out Pittman's credibility more thoroughly and for failing to turn over evidence.

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