Supreme Court rejects bid to overturn murder conviction Man who killed teen to be resentenced

February 27, 1996|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Michael Whittlesey, a Maryland death-row inmate, failed yesterday to persuade the Supreme Court to overturn his conviction for the 1982 murder of a high school senior from Timonium.

Although Whittlesey's conviction becomes final, his death sentence has been struck down by lower courts in Maryland. He is to be resentenced later this year; no schedule has been set.

Whittlesey has been tried twice for crimes related to the disappearance and death of James Rowan Griffin, 17, who was a senior at Timonium's Dulaney High School when he was killed.

At first, Whittlesey was prosecuted for robbery and assault, after he was found with the Timonium youth's car and other property. At the time, Mr. Griffin's body had not been found, and prosecutors did not pursue murder charges. Whittlesey was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Later, Mr. Griffin's body was found buried in Gunpowder State Park. In prosecuting Whittlesey for murder, the state used evidence of the earlier robbery as the "aggravating circumstance" that made the murder a crime eligible for the death penalty.

Whittlesey, in an earlier appeal to the Supreme Court, sought to head off the murder trial. He argued that it was unconstitutional "double jeopardy" to prosecute him for robbery and then use that crime against him in the murder case. State courts and the Supreme Court rejected that challenge in 1992.

After that, Whittlesey, at a trial held in Caroline County, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the conviction in September but ordered a new sentencing because testimony favorable to Whittlesey had been excluded from the murder trial.

The sentencing issue was not before the Supreme Court yesterday.

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