Reginald Griffin, Convicted Murderer, Gets Sentence Overturned -- 25 Years Later

It was a different inmate -- with a screwdriver, argued Reginald Griffin. Today, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that he deserves another trial.
It was a different inmate -- with a screwdriver, argued Reginald Griffin. Today, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that he deserves another trial.
Twenty-five years after he was convicted of murdering a fellow inmate in a Missouri prison, Reginald Griffin has gotten a major reprieve from the Missouri Supreme Court.

The state's highest court ruled today that prosecutors had withheld material evidence during Griffin's trial -- vacating his sentence and ordering that, unless the state does not plan to retry him for the murder of fellow prison inmate James Bausley, Griffin should be released in 60 days.

That's a stunning reversal for a man who was once sentenced to death. In a pretty twisted comedy of errors, it was later revealed that the death sentence had been reached by using conviction records of a different Reginald Griffin. D'oh! At that point, this Reginald Griffen was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole -- the sentence now vacated by today's ruling.

The supreme court's 4-3 decision rested on a key piece of evidence that was not revealed in Griffin's original trial in 1987: Namely, that another inmate had been found leaving the crime scene, holding a sharpened screw driver.

While two other inmates had testified that they saw Griffin stab Bausley with an inch-long knife, after the two argued over a TV set, both inmates were given perks in exchange. (One got a favorable letter to the parole board, as well as the state's assistance on theft charges; another actually got the state to pay his rent for a month after his release from prison.) And while a knife was recovered near the scene of Bausley's death, there were no fingerprints on it -- and no physical evidence suggesting Griffin had ever held the knife.

Griffin filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in 2005 after learning of the screwdriver. The circuit court denied it, but a bare majority overturned that decision today. "The state's failure to disclose this evidence, considered with reference to the totality of the circumstances in this case, demonstrates substantial doubt as to the factual validity of Griffin's convictions," writes Chief Justice Richard Teitelbaum.

In a dissenting opinion signed by two other justices, Justice Mary Russell argued that Griffin failed to meet the burden of demonstrating that the prosecutors suppressed evidence. The sharpened screwdriver, she argues, was not big enough to cause the wounds that killed Bausley.

About The Author

Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske is the executive editor of the RFT and its sister papers. She is the former host of St. Louis on the Air and continues to host its Legal Roundtable, as well participating as an occasional panelist on Nine PBS' Donnybrook. She lives in St. Louis.
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