Couple Sentenced In Son's Starvation Death

Rodgers Forge Parents Get 25 Years In Murder, Abuse

April 18, 2009|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,nick.madigan@baltsun.com

The parents of a boy who died of starvation, his shrunken body racked by blunt-force injuries, were sentenced Friday in Baltimore County Circuit Court to 25 years in prison for their roles in his death.

John J. Griffin, a 40-year-old computer engineer and a graduate of Loyola High School and Loyola College, and his wife, Susan Griffin, 39, who was a stay-at-home mother of five, will serve at least 12 1/2 years before being eligible to request parole. Their surviving children are in foster care.

The boy, Andrew Patrick Griffin, was two months shy of his third birthday when doctors in a Towson emergency room tried vainly to save his life Dec. 26, 2007. Testimony at the couple's trial showed that Andrew had spent his last Christmas Day alone in his bassinet, unattended and, apparently, without food, as the family celebrated the holiday downstairs in their Rodgers Forge townhouse. By the time his father looked in on him the next day, as his mother napped in an adjacent bed, Andrew was lifeless, the court was told.

Judge Timothy J. Martin, who found the Griffins guilty Feb. 25 of second-degree murder and first-degree child abuse, said Friday that it was clear that the boy's last months had been "terrible," his basic needs - food, health care, freedom from harm - unmet. He had so many injuries that a pathologist had difficulty counting them.

Harrowing autopsy photos of the child, Martin said, "speak loudly to me." From the images, he described Andrew as a child "who stares at me with dead eyes." Martin said he had considered arguments that the couple had been stressed and overwhelmed, but he said the case had always been about Andrew, who was "brought into this world by the defendants and entitled to their care." Instead, he said, the boy was evidently considered "a nobody, a nonentity," and always appeared joyless and apart from his siblings in pictures taken of the family.

The judge said that in considering the Griffin couple's fate he was "acutely aware that there's an extraordinary, painful impact on the other children," but that he had to weigh his mandate to punish and deter offenders. The Griffins faced a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Before being sentenced, John Griffin stood and addressed the judge, saying the tragedy of his son's death was intolerable, a nightmare that "sinks me into a hurricane of despondency."

"I still break down emotionally when I try to think about it," he said. "I have so many unresolvable questions. Why? Why did I miss this? Why was I so lax?"

Griffin asked the court for mercy. "I failed my son," he said, but insisted that he wanted to be a good father for his other children.

Susan Griffin did not make a statement in court because, her lawyer said, "she's not able to put one together." The lawyer, Michelle Moodispaw, told the judge that her client had "started out her family wanting to be a perfect mother," but that, in the end, "she was far from perfect."

Her client, Moodispaw said, was an adopted child and has a long history of "mental health issues," including bipolar disorder, and had attempted suicide. In court Friday, Moodispaw said that her client was upset because, among other reasons, "her husband won't make eye contact with her."

Once sentence was pronounced, John Griffin, who had been free on bail, was led from the courtroom in handcuffs without exchanging a word with his wife, who has been in custody at the county detention center since her arrest.

Asked after the sentencing whether the imposition of prison terms had denied the Griffins' surviving children the presence of their parents, Deputy State's Attorney Robin S. Coffin, the lead prosecutor in the case, said emphatically, "We are saving those children."

"I can't imagine those two as parents," she went on. Then, invoking the autopsy images of the dead child, she said, "If you saw the photos, they take your breath away."

The Griffin case was widely followed. "What is this world coming to?" Earlene Langfield, 65, of Arbutus, mother of a 45-year-old son, wrote in an e-mail to The Baltimore Sun. "No child anywhere ever should be put through what this poor child had to suffer. Little Andrew is in a much better place. May he rest in eternal peace with all the other angels."

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