Convicted murderer Michael Whittlesey, who spent more than two years on death row before an appeals court voided his sentence, was sentenced yesterday to life in prison for the 1982 slaying of Jamie Griffin.
In rejecting prosecutors' pleas that the death penalty be reinstated, Baltimore County Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. said Whittlesey's troubled family life helped make him an immature, impulsive 18-year-old when he killed the Cockeysville teen-ager and buried the body in Gunpowder Falls State Park.
The judge pointed to Whittlesey's record of avoiding violence while in prison, to his newfound relationship with a 45-year-old Bel Air woman and her family, and to his apologetic admission that he killed young Griffin. "I am persuaded the defendant is a different person, not because of what he said but because of the way he has lived his life," Smith said.
As the sentence was announced, Whittlesey showed little reaction to the decision to spare his life. The victim's mother, Lou Ellen Griffin, wiped away a tear. Jamie's father, Norville Griffin, stared straight ahead.
Later, in a voice left little more than a whisper by a recent stroke, Mr. Griffin said: "We need somebody to uphold the law and get the guillotine out and chop their heads off and make this a safer place to live."
Whittlesey, now 33, was ordered to serve his life sentence consecutive to the 25-year sentence he received in 1984 for robbing young Griffin. Life without parole was not an option in his murder trial because such a sentence did not exist in 1982, when Griffin, 17, was killed.
Donald E. Zaremba, one of Whittlesey's lawyers, suggested it is unlikely his client would be paroled soon. After serving the robbery sentence, Whittlesey would have to serve 25 years of his murder sentence to be considered for parole, Zaremba said.
In Maryland, the governor must approve any parole of someone sentenced to life in prison.
After the slaying, Griffin's body lay undetected for eight years in a grave in the park. His remains were discovered in 1990, and, in 1993, a jury convicted Whittlesey of murder and sentenced him to die.
However, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the death sentence in 1995, ruling that Whittlesey should have been permitted at sentencing to present testimony to show that he grew up in an abusive family. After Whittlesey returned to court last week to be resentenced, defense lawyers painted him as a loner scarred by abuse in a dysfunctional family.
Smith said Whittlesey has found some semblance of family support in his romantic relationship with Susan Kight, who introduced him to the Mormon faith.
Kight said, "I've learned to love from the Savior's love, and that's what we've given to Michael, a true, unconditional love. He really is a good person."
The slain youth's mother takes a far different view.
"It breaks my heart that he's alive to do these things with his so-called new family," Lou Ellen Griffin said after the sentence was announced. "Where is Jamie? He'll never fall in love, get married."
The judge said that many mourn the loss of Jamie, who frequently displayed his talent for playing the piano while performing in nursing homes. He said, "Thank goodness he had a chance to share some of his being, his talent, his liveliness, at the age of 17."
Pub Date: 1/15/97