Mother accused of murder 'didn't see' son's injuries

Andrew Griffin looked a little skinny but was otherwise fine. Or maybe he wasn't. His mother couldn't be sure.

In a videotaped conversation at Baltimore County police headquarters hours after her young son was declared dead in 2007, Susan J. Griffin veered from certainty to indecision when attempting to describe Andrew's condition in the weeks leading to his death.

"He's got no health problems that I'm aware of — well, he does," Griffin told a detective in a rapid chatter, acknowledging the boy's weight loss but not his emaciated condition and the wounds covering his body, which had alarmed the staff of the emergency room at St. Joseph Medical Center when his father brought him in, lifeless, the day after Christmas.

"He's fine," she said at another point. "Well, he obviously isn't fine. It's just something I didn't see."

The woman's comments, in an interview with detectives that lasted almost nine hours, were played today in Baltimore County Circuit Court on the third day of a trial in which Griffin and her husband, John, are accused of first-degree murder and child abuse. Prosecutors said Andrew, who was almost 3 years old at the time of his death, weighed what a normal 3-month-old baby does, and was almost as tiny.

"I know he's small -- he's about 10, 15 pounds off," Griffin said. And yet, she noted, "Andrew eats everything in the house." Yes, she conceded, he had "little scratches" on his body, "but nothing major."

An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be starvation.

In the courtroom, Susan Griffin, 39, in a white blouse and wearing leg shackles, followed along with the video interview in a voluminous printed transcript. Her husband, also 39 and free on bail, sat beside her in a dark suit without visible expression.

On the screen, the woman spoke so rapidly that her words were almost indecipherable for much of the interview. During a break, Judge Timothy J. Martin said, "I wish I could slow her down."

Referring to the boy's injuries, Griffin said his mouth "looks really nasty," with signs that a tooth had penetrated his lip, but blamed it on the child's habit of biting himself. She said some of the scratches might have been made by one of Andrew's brothers.

Showing little grief over her son's passing just hours earlier, Griffin seemed more concerned about whether she and her husband -- who had four surviving children, with another on the way -- would be prosecuted, and when she might be allowed to go home. "My other kids, seeing how well they are, will that help my case at all?" she asked. "I've got nothing to hide."

Griffin was also worried about what detectives were doing at the family's house on Old Trail Road. "I don't know what they're looking for," she said. Told that police had found bloody paper towels in a trash can and blood spatter on the boy's bassinet and the walls and ceiling of the room, Griffin said Andrew "had nose bleeds" but could not explain how the blood had traveled so far.

Through DNA testing, investigators later matched blood from the room to the dead toddler.

Griffin could not say whether Andrew had eaten breakfast that day. "I honestly can't remember," she said. "It's a whirlwind."

She complained frequently of being exhausted and stressed, but, she said, "It doesn't make me want to go and harm my kids."

Later, she said, "I'm going to be blamed for the scratches, I guess."

She said she and her husband worried when guests came to their Rodgers Forge home that they would be accused of starving their children. She said she knew there was something wrong with the 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."

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 a few months earlier. 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 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."

Six months pregnant with her seventh child, Susan Griffin, who had worked as a medical assistant before starting her family, talked incessantly with the detectives who took turns questioning her in the hours after the boy's death. 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 later took it off.

She made several requests to be allowed to smoke in the small, plain interrogation room. "Am I going to be allowed to have one or am I locked up?" she asked. To the detective who finally brought her a cigarette, she said, "I'm not usually a menthol person, but that's all right."

When one detective pointed out that her other children, including her 1-year-old daughter, had not weighed as little as Andrew since they were very young, she responded, "That's what we kept saying. We joke he looks like an infant. Lindsey's bigger than he is."

Griffin suggested that she might have held off seeking medical treatment for him for fear of what might have happened to the rest of her family.

"So I'm upset and worried and I run him to the hospital so they can say I did something to him that I didn't do? That sometimes has been why, why," she stammered.

"I'm tired of being accused of something we didn't do when we tried to get care and the doctor wouldn't see us," she said, referring to an $80 billing dispute with a pediatrician.

Nevertheless, she said, she had worried about Andrew's health, particularly his low weight.

"You can't have been too worried about him," Detective Al Barton responded. "He's only been to the doctor once since he's been born."

Griffin fired back: "I see, so you are saying I did something ... because there's blood in the bassinet, now I beat the hell out of my kids. I love that boy."

Her attorneys had argued that her interview with police should be excluded from trial because she was suffering from the flu at the time and was pregnant and that she had been misled to believe that she would be permitted to return home as soon as she told police what she knew of her son's death. But the judge ruled that she understood her rights to have a lawyer and had agreed to speak with detectives anyway.

Griffin, who is being held in lieu of $1 million bond at the county detention center, had a history of amphetamine use, prosecutors said, and Andrew was born with traces of amphetamines in his body.

Barton, who testified today before the video was shown, said she was also inconsistent in her responses when he spoke with her at the family's home in Rodgers Forge and later at the police station.

Her husband had testified that when he entered the house's master bedroom the day after Christmas to check on Andrew and discovered him not breathing in his bassinet, his wife was lying on the couple's bed, apparently sleeping. Susan Griffin said she had found the boy unresponsive but later contradicted herself by saying it had been her husband, Barton said.

Referring to the couple's contention that a billing dispute had prevented them from seeking medical help for Andrew, Barton said that a review of John Griffin's employment file showed that the entire family was covered by a health insurance policy.

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