DENTON -- Nearly 11 years after Dulaney High School senior James R. "Jamie" Griffin disappeared, the man accused of killing him and burying his body in Gunpowder Falls State Park goes on trial today in Caroline County.
Opening statements in the death penalty case against Michael Whittlesey should be presented to the jury after Judge J. Owen Wise rules on a handful of pretrial motions, including one from defense lawyers who contend a surreptitious tape recording of Whittlesey's conversations with a friend should not be admitted as evidence.
Whittlesey, now 29, is serving a 25-year sentence for the robbery of his 17-year-old friend and high school classmate.
The Griffin boy was preparing for high school graduation when he disappeared April 2, 1982. A talented pianist, he had performed for audi
ences at Baltimore's Inner Harbor and City Hall, the Naval Academy and numerous schools and churches.
Whittlesey was not charged with the murder until 1990, when the Griffin boy's remains were discovered buried in a Baltimore County park.
Jamie Griffin's father, Norville, spent years combing the park with a metal detector, searching for his son's remains. On March 24, 1990, police using new sensing technology discovered the remains in a 2-foot-deep grave.
Whittlesey was convicted by a jury Feb. 16, 1984, of stealing Jamie's money, the car he was driving and some cassette tapes in the car. Authorities found the missing car in Atlantic City, N.J., May 21, 1982, a few blocks from a pay telephone that Whittlesey had used to call his father a month earlier.
Today's trial opening follows an unsuccessful attempt by public defenders to keep Whittlesey from being tried on the murder charge. They had filed a double-jeopardy motion, arguing that most of the state's evidence for murder already had been presented during Whittlesey's 1984 robbery trial.
But Judge Wise, who heard the motion after the case was moved from Baltimore County, ruled against Whittlesey.
Judge Wise is expected to rule today on the admissibility of taped conversations between the defendant and David Strathy, a high school friend whom Baltimore County police had "wired" with a recorder in hopes of gathering evidence against Whittlesey.
Mr. Strathy said he wore the recorder on June 2, 1982, while he and Whittlesey played pool at an Edgewood bar and two days later when the two men met at a Joppatowne shopping center.
Prosecutors are expected to argue that the tapes reveal Whittlesey's knowledge of what happened to Jamie Griffin.