Balto. Co. Couple To Be Sentenced In Son's Death

Three-year-old From Rodgers Forge Died Of Starvation In 2007

April 17, 2009|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,

There was little reason to suspect that something terrible - the withering abuse and neglect of a child - was happening behind the walls of the Griffin family's rented brick townhouse in Rodgers Forge.

John Griffin, a graduate of private schools in Baltimore, had a job as a computer engineer that paid well. He and his wife, Susan, and their five children were all covered by health insurance. She had worked in a medical office before becoming a full-time mother. He jogged with friends.

But the family was unraveling, distracted and consumed with internal warfare. Ultimately, on the day after Christmas in 2007, the couple's youngest son, Andrew, who was almost 3, died, his body ravaged by blunt-force injuries too numerous to count. An autopsy concluded he had starved.

John Griffin, 40, and Susan Griffin, 39, will be sentenced Friday in Baltimore County Circuit Court after their convictions on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree child abuse in a case that drew national attention again to the plight of children left to the mercies of deeply dysfunctional parents.

Advocates for children's rights were aghast at the case. "Our society is paying dearly," said Jane LeMond-Alvarez, a retired crime analyst with the Oxnard, Calif., Police Department who estimated that 3 million children are abused every year in this country, and that at least three die of abuse each day. "We can no longer afford to tolerate child abuse."

According to testimony in the couple's trial in February, Susan Griffin was habitually jittery and unfocused. She had been arrested for obtaining amphetamines and painkillers with forged prescriptions three weeks before her son died and was distraught over the death of her mother months earlier.

Her husband told the court he was perennially exhausted, too consumed with work to pay attention to Andrew's increasing emaciation. There were nights lost to screaming fights. When the couple slept at all, it was in separate rooms.

In Rodgers Forge, just south of Towson University, some of the Griffins' neighbors on Old Trail Road insisted after the couple's arrest that nothing had seemed amiss.

"Far from true," said Ann Felter, a neighbor who said she often saw some of the Griffin children. "We would see the older three running the streets with no shoes, filthy, in clothes that were clearly too small for them. When speaking with the kids, one could see that they were starved for attention."

Felter said she many other residents "had to chase them off our front porches" after the kids had been caught "looking in the windows." In retrospect, she said, "I am shocked that I let myself get caught up in my own life and ignored these children screaming for help."

Only once was the Baltimore County Department of Social Services summoned to look into the family's affairs, said Maureen Robinson, a spokeswoman for the agency. It was just after Andrew's birth, on Feb. 20, 2005, at St. Joseph Medical Center, when hospital staff detected amphetamines in Susan Griffin's body, though none in the child's. In addition, Robinson said, two of the Griffins' older children who went to visit their new sibling "appeared disheveled" at the hospital, as did their mother. No action was taken, Robinson said, but because the family's file was purged from the DSS records, she could not say why.

Susan Griffin has been in jail since her arrest, while her husband was released on bail. In court during their trial, the couple barely spoke to one another. When she tried to speak with him at one point, he ignored her. From the witness stand, John Griffin gave the clear impression that he believed his wife was fully responsible for their son's death.

The judge, Timothy J. Martin, didn't buy it. He said they were both to blame, even if, he surmised, it was the mother who committed the physical abuse.

Her legs shackled, she had spent much of the weeklong trial with furrowed brow, to all appearances confused by the testimony about Andrew's blood on the ceiling, on the walls, on her curling iron, about the bruises and cuts. Evidence of the abuse lay in a heap on a table in the courtroom - the child's bassinet cover, a blue blanket, baby clothes - all spattered with blood.

In a videotaped police interview that was played in court, Susan Griffin had an explanation. "Andrew had nosebleeds," she said, "because it's dry in the house."

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