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Murder trial opens Victim's father recalls last conversation


DENTON -- The last time Norville R. Griffin spoke to his only child, Jamie, the 17-year-old high school senior asked for $20 to help pay for a weekend retreat with friends in a religious youth group.

"I said: 'No problem, Jamie. As good as you've been, I'll give you what you need'," said Mr. Griffin yesterday, as he testified at the opening of the trial of Michael Whittlesey, accused of killing the Baltimore County youth in 1982.

Mr. Griffin said his son, who chose not to ride the bus to school because other youths' cigarette smoke triggered his asthma attacks, then hopped into the family car and drove off to Dulaney High School.

That was almost 11 years ago. Jamie never went on the retreat and he never returned home.

Jamie was listed as a missing person until three years ago, when his remains were discovered in a shallow grave scratched into the pine needle-covered earth of Gunpowder Falls State Park.

Prosecutors argued yesterday that Whittlesey, who was last seen with Jamie April 2, 1982, when he disappeared, killed his school chum and buried his battered body in the park. He stole the Griffin family car Jamie had been driving, fled to Atlantic City, N.J., and then returned to his home in Joppatowne.

Angela White, the Baltimore County prosecutor handling the case, said the prosecution will prove Whittlesey is the murderer by playing tapes one of Whittlesey's friends secretly made for police in which the defendant divulges details of Jamie's burial.

But public defenders dismissed the tapes, which they unsuccessfully sought to bar from the courtroom, as inconclusive. Assistant Public Defender Jerri Payton said Whittlesey had been drinking beer the night his talk about Jamie was recorded and that his statements are nothing more than "the drunken ramblings of a 19-year-old who's terrified."

In her opening statement to the jury, Ms. Payton said witnesses will testify that Whittlesey and Jamie agreed to drive to Washington on April 2.

She said the two friends drove off in Jamie's car from a Joppatowne shopping center. "What happens next? We don't know and may never know," she said.

Some witnesses, said Ms. Payton, will testify that Jamie and Whittlesey met some other youths and that Jamie bought LSD from one of them. Later, she said, an apparently unconscious Jamie was seen being carried to the side of a road by four teens, including Whittlesey.

Ms. Payton said Whittlesey realized Jamie was dead and panicked, taking Jamie's car and driving to Atlantic City. But, she added, Whittlesey did not kill his friend.

Whittlesey, now 29, is serving a 25-year sentence for the robbery of Jamie's car keys and money and the theft of the car, a tape player and some cassettes. Although he was a suspect in Jamie's disappearance, he was not charged with homicide until the teen's remains were found.

Because prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Whittlesey, the trial was moved from Baltimore County to Caroline. It is expected to last two weeks.

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