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Murder trial begins for Rodgers Forge couple accused of killing son

The photographs beamed onto a courtroom screen showed a scrawny, emaciated toddler, his body covered in bruises and abrasions, arms and legs limp, eyes half-closed, mouth agape.

Andrew Patrick Griffin was two months shy of his third birthday when the picture was taken in the emergency room at St. Joseph Medical Center on Dec. 26, 2007, about an hour after he was pronounced dead.

In Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday, the boy's mother, Susan J. Griffin - who, along with her husband, John J. Griffin, is accused of first-degree murder - began sobbing when a prosecutor showed the photographs.

"My baby!" she cried, before Judge Timothy J. Martin called a brief recess so that she could compose herself. Her legs shackled, Griffin was led from the courtroom on the first day of a bench trial for the Rodgers Forge couple. When she returned, she averted her eyes whenever the pictures were displayed.

An autopsy determined that Andrew had starved.

The Griffins, both 39, have five other children, the youngest of whom was born after his mother was jailed. Her husband was released on bail in May.

Michelle Moodispaw, a lawyer for Susan Griffin, said that to prove first-degree murder, prosecutors would have to demonstrate that her client "made a conscious decision" to starve the child.

Prosecutors tried yesterday to show that the boy - who at the time of his death weighed about 13 pounds, about the weight of a typical 3-month-old - had not only been starved but was the victim of consistent neglect and abuse.

Assistant State's Attorney Garret Glennon said the Griffins had taken their son to the doctor only once, and then failed to heed the pediatrician's advice that the boy's blood and urine be tested for abnormalities and that he be brought back for follow-up examinations.

Glennon noted the "filthy condition" of the boy's bassinet and "blood splatter on the walls" in the room where he slept.

Even the ceiling had blood on it, Glennon said, and all of it proved to be Andrew's.

Recounting the events at the hospital, Glennon said John Griffin, who had driven Andrew there after the boy became unresponsive, "never cried or appeared particularly distraught at the news that his son had just died."

A police sergeant, one of four officers summoned to the emergency room, testified that John Griffin acted belligerently, asking them why they were there and whether they were accusing him of anything.

He yelled at the officers, calling them "a bunch of gorillas," Sgt. Michael Amrhein said. "I explained that it wasn't normal for a 3-year-old to be in the condition that Andrew was in."

Amrhein said he became concerned for the welfare of the couple's other children, and drove to their house on Old Trail Road, where Susan Griffin had already received word of her son's death.

"She was very antsy and fidgety, but I couldn't say she was upset," Amrhein said.

Another officer, Conrad J. Butler, testified that, after her arrest, Susan Griffin said, "I neglected him, but I never hurt him." She also said, according to Butler, "It's not my fault he's skinny."

An emergency room nurse, Melinda Stengel, said that she and a team of doctors and nurses tried for about 20 minutes to resuscitate Andrew, to no avail.

She said John Griffin was "very nonchalant," and "put out, bothered," as he called his wife with the news.

Stengel said the room cleared out and the boy's body remained. "I held his hand," she said, tears streaming down her face. " I said a little prayer. I said goodbye."

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