Mistrial declared in sex abuse case

Howard judge rules in first day of testimony

pastor also faces trial in Baltimore County

March 07, 2007|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,Sun reporter

A Howard County judge declared a mistrial yesterday in the case of a Baltimore County pastor accused of engaging in sexual acts with a teenage male parishioner in Columbia hotels in 2004 and 2005.

The trial began yesterday morning and ended about 5 p.m. after the alleged victim, who is now 18 years old, gave testimony against Gerald Fitroy Griffith that included references to incidents in Baltimore County.

During a hearing yesterday before the jury was selected, Judge Diane O. Leasure upheld a motion by the defense to exclude mention of sex abuse charges that Griffith faces in Baltimore County. After the witness referred to Baltimore County, attorneys conferred privately with Leasure, and she then ruled the mistrial.

Griffith, pastor and founder of Redemption Christian Fellowship Church on Dogwood Road in Woodlawn, was indicted by a Howard County grand jury in August on three counts of sexual abuse of a minor. Griffith, 40, of Bowie, entered a plea of not guilty at yesterday's trial.

Griffith was charged in Baltimore County in 2005 with sexually abusing the same youth and two other teenagers during counseling sessions. He is charged with sexual abuse of a minor, perverted practice, sodomy and assault. His Baltimore County trial is scheduled for May 14.

During his more than one hour of testimony, the youth, dressed in a white button-down shirt and a tie, occasionally looked at Griffith as he answered questions. The youth described the nights in the hotels in Columbia and said he did not tell anybody about what happened because he was scared.

"I was afraid," he said and noted the emotional and "sickening" feeling that he lived with because he didn't tell anybody. "He said, `If you try to tell anybody, they won't believe you because of your past.'"

Joseph Murtha, Griffith's attorney, argued in his opening statement that the youth did not complain or show signs of abuse before going to police in 2005.

"His day-to-day behavior betrays his allegations. ... It's a story, it's not reality," Murtha said. "It's a story he has manufactured."

Murtha also said that Griffith told him he never wanted to be alone with the youth and always had somebody else with them when they were together, including when they were in the hotel.

Mary Murphy, senior assistant state's attorney, told jurors that Griffith misused the vulnerability of a youth who had behavioral problems and reached out to the church for help.

Murphy said the youth was looking for a positive male in his life since he did not have a good relationship with his biological father, who spent a lot of time in jail.

Griffith "used the [boy's] need for a father figure to commit physical abuse," Murphy said.

Murtha and prosecutors declined to comment on the mistrial. A new trial was scheduled for May 23 in Howard County Circuit Court.

According to charging documents filed by investigators, Griffith counseled the youth between October 2003 and October 2005. The youth told police that he began to be sexually assaulted at the church in November 2003, when he was 14 years old.

Between May 2004 and May 2005, Griffith and the youth occasionally stayed overnight at hotels in Columbia, where the boy told police that he was sexually assaulted, according to court documents.

Parishioners who were in court yesterday to support Griffith declined to comment to reporters.

In a separate case, Gary Warren Warfield, a deacon at the church, was acquitted by a Baltimore County jury in November of charges that he sexually abused a 17-year-old boy at the church.


Sun reporters Nick Shields and Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.

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