Abuse case called 'torture'

A Baltimore County prosecutor handling the murder cases against a Rodgers Forge couple charged in the starvation death of their 2-year-old son said yesterday that the abuse inflicted by the parents was "tantamount to torture" and that investigators are looking into the possibility that another of the couple's children was also abused.

"This is not a circumstance where parents lost their mind, that they did a momentary misstep or misdeed against a child that caused the death," Robin S. Coffin, a deputy state's attorney, told the judge considering a defense request for a reduction in the father's bail."He was beaten and abused and starved to death," she said of the toddler who died. "It's a shock to the conscience."

The prosecutor also gave the judge a laptop computer containing autopsy photos of the toddler, Andrew Patrick Griffin, who weighed about 13 pounds -- roughly the weight of a typical 3-month-old -- when he died Dec. 26 at St. Joseph Medical Center.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Timothy J. Martin clicked through several of the images before slamming shut the laptop.

"I've seen enough," he said, later describing them as "horrifying" and "upsetting to the extreme."

The new details about the abuse case against John J. Griffin, 39, and Susan J. Griffin, 38, were revealed yesterday during a pretrial hearing.

Lawyers in the case - three prosecutors and three defense attorneys - agreed to postpone the couple's June trial date to give both sides more time to prepare. Although the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on the toddler talked about his findings with prosecutors, the autopsy report has not been completed.

"Because it's a very unusual death, he sent out all of the child's organs to be tested to confirm that there was not some inherent genetic problem," Coffin said.

A defense attorney for John Griffin asked the judge to reduce his client's bail to $50,000. The father, a computer systems engineer, has been held at the county jail on $1.5 million bail since his arrest in December.

In arguing for the bail reduction, defense lawyer Joseph Murtha asked the judge to consider that his client has lived in Maryland most of his life and has strong ties to the area. He also has no criminal record and there was "no long history of abuse of multiple children," Murtha said.

But Coffin vigorously opposed the bail request, arguing that there is "some indication" that the couple's 4-year-old son, Thomas, "also suffered abuse." Asked after the hearing to elaborate, she declined.

Coffin also argued that the father lost virtually everything -- his home, his children and his job -- after his arrest and faces a possible sentence of life in prison, if convicted. That prospect alone might prompt him to flee, she said.

Martin ultimately agreed to reduce John Griffin's bail to $100,000 -- twice the amount that defense lawyer Joseph Murtha said his client could likely afford. But before he could be released, the defendant would have to show proof that he will live in an apartment or extended-stay hotel while awaiting trial, Martin ruled.

The judge also directed John Griffin to have no contact with his wife or any children younger than 15 if he does post the bail.

"The court is doing this as an exercise of discretion. I could be dead wrong," the judge said, noting that bail is intended not to be punitive but to ensure that a defendant shows up for trial.

Susan Griffin remains at the county jail on $1 million bail. She did not ask yesterday for a bail reduction.

John Griffin and his wife were charged with child abuse in December and then with first-degree murder last month after the autopsy revealed that the cause of the child's death was starvation.

At the time of the Griffins' arrest in December, they had four children together -- ages 10, 9, 4 and 1 -- and Susan Griffin was about eight months' pregnant. She has since given birth to another boy.

All five children have been placed in foster care, with the oldest two assigned to live with John Griffin's mother, lawyers in the case said yesterday.

Susan Griffin, a stay-at-home mother, also has an adult son from a previous relationship.

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