Mother: 'I didn't kill this child'

Baltimore County woman alluded to fear of family being removed if others saw malnourished son

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October 19, 2008|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,

She joked that before he died, her nearly 3-year-old son weighed less than her infant daughter. She offered no explanation for the blood that police found on the bedroom walls and ceiling or on the bassinet in which the boy often slept - other than the bloody noses that she said she and her children suffered in the dry winter air. And she said she and her husband worried whenever company came to their Rodgers Forge home that they would be accused of starving their children.

In a nearly nine-hour interview with police the day her husband drove their son's skeletal, bruised and lifeless body to a local hospital, Susan J. Griffin told detectives that she knew there was something wrong with her youngest boy but had been trying to "fatten him up" on her own.

"I didn't kill this child," she said. "At least I didn't think I did in any conscious way."

A digital video recording of Griffin's interview provides the first chance to see and hear the woman - who is charged with murder - as she describes the events surrounding her young child's death. It also includes new details about what she told detectives.

The Baltimore Sun obtained access to the recording of the Dec. 26 interview after successfully challenging in Baltimore County Circuit Court a defense attorney's pretrial request to seal the video recording.

Griffin, 38, and her husband are charged with first-degree murder and child abuse in the death of Andrew Patrick Griffin. Covered in scabs and bruises, including one black eye, the boy weighed about 13 pounds - roughly the weight of a typical 3-month-old - when he died at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. An autopsy later revealed the cause of death to be starvation.

Because the lawyer for her husband, John J. Griffin, 39, did not challenge the admissibility of his statements to police, as his wife's lawyers did, his interview was not available for viewing.

In charging documents, detectives wrote that John Griffin, a computer systems engineer, explained his son's malnourished state as a lingering effect of a flu-like illness he suffered in August or September last year. He also told police that he had not taken Andrew to the pediatrician because of a billing dispute with the doctor's office.

"What did you want me to do ... pay $400 to have my child seen by a doctor and work out the details with the insurance company later?" detectives quoted him as saying in court documents.

Baltimore County prosecutor Robin S. Coffin has said in court that Andrew Griffin did not die as a result of mere neglect. Rather, he was beaten and starved to death, she said - protracted, deliberate abuse that she said was "a shock to the conscience" and "tantamount to torture."

When she handed up a laptop computer containing autopsy photos of the toddler at a pretrial hearing, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Timothy J. Martin clicked through several of the images before slamming shut the laptop. "I've seen enough," he said, later describing the photographs as "horrifying" and "upsetting to the extreme."

Michelle Moodispaw, an attorney for Susan Griffin, described her client as a "loving mother who cares very much for all seven of her children. This is inconsistent with the charges against Mr. and Mrs. Griffin."

Moodispaw said her client spoke to police within hours of learning that her son had died and did so believing she was helping the investigation. "We are confident that the evidence presented at trial will show that Andrew's death was not due to any criminal conduct, neglect or abuse," she said.

Susan and John Griffin, who lived in the 300 block of Old Trail Road, were arrested in the early-morning hours of Dec. 27, after being questioned separately for hours by detectives at Baltimore County police headquarters in Towson.

Distraught and six months pregnant with her seventh child, Susan Griffin, a stay-at-home mother who had worked as a medical assistant before starting her family, talked incessantly with the detectives who took turns questioning her. With her short, dark hair pulled back in a headband, she frequently fidgeted with the neck of her white turtleneck and the pockets and zippers of her L.L. Bean winter coat.

She complained of persistent exhaustion, of being distracted over the death of her mother seven months earlier and of a headache, "spaciness" and nausea from the flu that she said had been winding its way through her family. She repeatedly asked to see her husband and children. And she made several requests to be allowed to smoke in the small, plain interrogation room, telling one detective who finally brought her a cigarette, "I'm not usually a menthol person but that's all right."

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