Death penalty won't be sought in city shooting


Anne Arundel County prosecutors will not seek the death penalty this spring for an Annapolis man accused in a high-profile shooting death in September of a businessman in the city's historic district.

Prosecutors said yesterday that they will seek life without the possibility of parole for Terrence Tolbert, 20, the older of the two Robinwood public housing residents charged in the killing of Straughan Lee Griffin a short walk from the State House on Sept. 19.

They recently filed a court notice seeking the same for Leeander Jerome Blake, 17, who is not eligible for the death penalty because he is a juvenile.

The decision regarding Tolbert was not unexpected. Kristin Riggin, spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, said she would not elaborate on why prosecutors made the decision, saying only that "a critical element in seeking the death penalty would be missing."

In a death penalty case, prosecutors must show who committed the killing because only that person, and not an accomplice, can be given a death sentence. In this case, Tolbert and Blake have blamed each other for the killing, according to charging documents and sources close to the investigation.

"The evidence, I think, is going to come out that my client did not pull the trigger, nor was he the driver of the vehicle," said Kenneth W. Ravenell, Blake's lawyer. "I believe that while the prosecution may not be sure, I think they are aware evidence certainly leans in that direction."

Mark Van Bavel, Tolbert's lawyer, said his client was not involved in the killing.

"Clearly, the evidence would indicate my client did not [pull the trigger]. He had nothing to do with it," Van Bavel said.

The lawyer said he views life without the possibility of parole as "about the worst punishment you can get."

Virginia Griffin, the victim's mother, said her family is "ambiguous" about the death penalty and is not pressing for it.

"We are not angrily pursuing this," she said. "We want them punished to what the prosecuting attorney feels is the most appropriate for the crime."

"We could live with that, if they get a severe penalty. And we will pray for their redemption."

She said she sympathizes with the families of Tolbert and Blake.

Tolbert and Blake are scheduled for separate trials in April and May, respectively.

The fatal shooting, just before dusk on a balmy evening, shook the city's historic district, where a homicide had not occurred for two decades.

Griffin, 51, a founder and partner in Performance AV, a specialty video projection company in Columbia, was unloading groceries in front of his gray stucco home on a cul-de-sac, Cumberland Court, when he was killed.

About 7:30 p.m., two men tried to rob him at gunpoint, according to charging documents. He resisted. They shot him in the head, then dug his keys from his pants pocket and drove off in his Jeep Cherokee, turning the wrong way up the cul-de-sac. On the way out, they ran over Griffin, leaving him in a pool of his own blood.

Police found the Jeep the next day at a Glen Burnie apartment complex near where Tolbert's girlfriend lives.

Riggin said the state's attorney's office's decision not to seek the death penalty had nothing to do with moves in the General Assembly to extend the state's moratorium on executions.

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