On the eve of a decision that could bring him the death penalty, convicted murderer Michael Whittlesey offered his first public expression of remorse yesterday for the 1982 slaying of teen-ager Jamie Griffin.
"Today, I'm taking responsibility for my actions and the consequences of my actions," Whittlesey said during a hearing in Baltimore County Circuit Court. "I am sorry for all the grief and pain and suffering I have caused to so many people, for what I did and what has happened."
After Whittlesey addressed the court and lawyers made their final arguments, Judge James T. Smith Jr. said he would review evidence in the case and hand down a sentence today.
The judge must sentence Whittlesey to death or to life in prison. Life-without-parole is not an option, because such a sentence did not exist in 1982, when Griffin was killed, lawyers in the case said.
Whittlesey, 33, was convicted in 1993 of murdering Griffin, a Cockeysville 17-year-old who disappeared in 1982 and whose body lay undetected in a Gunpowder Falls State Park grave for eight years. At that trial, a jury called for the death penalty, but the Maryland Court of Appeals voided that sentence, ruling Whittlesey was denied a chance at sentencing to show that he grew up in an abusive family.
His remarks yesterday carried a vastly different tone from his actions at the first sentencing hearing in 1993.
At that hearing, he paced the courtroom during a nearly two-hour appeal for mercy. He said that he wished he could "rewrite" what happened April 2, 1982, but never apologized or expressed sympathy to the victim's parents, and never said how Jamie died.
Yesterday, he spoke for less than half an hour. He talked of recently finding love with a woman who is a friend of his mother's. And he offered an apology to Griffin's family.
"Of course, I'm sorry to Mr. and Mrs. Griffin, but most importantly, I'm sorry to Jamie, Jamie Griffin," he said. "I'm also sorry for burying Jamie's body in the Gunpowder park. I know that that is a terrible thing I did, and there's no excuse for it."
But Whittlesey did not provide details of how he killed Griffin. And at times he used words that seemed to distance himself from the murder -- at one point saying the Griffins will no longer experience life with their son because of "what has happened."
That remark prompted prosecutor Mickey Norman to charge that Whittlesey still had not clearly confessed to killing Jamie. But Smith said he interpreted the remarks as an admission of murder. The victim's mother, Lou Ellen Griffin, left the courtroom shortly after Whittlesey began his remarks. Afterward, she said she doubted the apology was sincere and wondered whether it was a tactic to avoid the death penalty.
"I don't think it means anything if someone tells him to do that to save his skin," she said. "This is the first sign of remorse, if it was remorse, in 15 years, so it was a little late."
She said she hopes Whittlesey is sentenced to death. "A life for a life," she said.
Norman, the prosecutor, said Whittlesey should be executed because he stabbed Griffin to death as part of a "preplanned" robbery -- which, he said, carries more weight than testimony that Whittlesey grew up in an abusive household.
Pub Date: 1/14/97