Jurors selected in 2002 Annapolis murder case


Jurors will get their first inkling of prosecutors' murder case against Terrence Tolbert, as well as his defense against charges that he killed and carjacked a businessman in Annapolis' historic district in 2002, when both sides make their opening statements this morning in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

Late yesterday, a panel of five men and seven women, plus four alternates, was selected, ending a day of questioning by Judge Ronald A. Silkworth in the high-profile crime that terrified a community, has been a legal roller coaster and led to a change in state law.

Tolbert is charged with first-degree murder in the Sept. 19, 2002, fatal shooting and armed carjacking of Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, as the businessman unloaded groceries in front of his home near the State House. The 21-year-old Tolbert, who lost an arm in a power transformer accident as a youth, could be sentenced to life without parole. He also faces related charges. But his alleged accomplice is unlikely to face trial on identical state charges because of a court ruling last year.

Members of Griffin's family from Portsmouth, Va. -- who did not watch jury selection -- are expected to begin attending the trial today, as are friends of the victim.

Yesterday, Griffin's mother, Virginia, spent her 61st wedding anniversary with a daughter, Linda, her deceased son's fiancee, Ginny Rawls, and his childhood friend, Les Davenport, as the women steeled their nerves for a trial expected to last a week.

"It's going to be terrible to be here," said Rawls, who had gone to Griffin's home in September 2002, ready to go to Assateague with him to unwind and begin wedding plans, only to find he was slain. "It would be even more terrible not to be here. I just never thought this was a choice I would have to make."

She later spoke of having a "big hole in my heart and a big hole in my soul where he used to be."

Virginia Griffin, who said she may walk out of the trial if she finds it unbearable, said she is expecting "the most difficult time of my life." She said wonderful memories of her son have sustained her during the more than two years since his death. The trial, she said, will be a jolt.

Tolbert, then 19, and Leeander Jerome Blake, then 17, his neighbor in Annapolis, were charged about a month after Griffin's death and implicated each other in statements to police.

According to police testimony in pretrial hearings, Tolbert described Griffin's death as a "robbery gone bad." Tolbert reportedly said the two were high on PCP and needed a car to go to Glen Burnie when they saw Griffin, authorities said. But Griffin resisted and was shot in the head, then run over with his Jeep as the carjackers fled, police said Tolbert testified.

Both men challenged the admissibility of their statements to police, and both initially won. Under state law at the time, both men were free while prosecutors appealed. That provision was changed last year.

But when their cases went to the state's highest court, Tolbert lost and Blake won. Blake is free because state law says that if prosecutors lose an appeal, they must end the case. Prosecutors have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could decide as early as next week whether to take the case.

Yesterday, Linda Griffin, who testified in support of changing both parts of Maryland's law, said she is prepared to return to Annapolis to testify again before state legislators. Proponents vowed to continue to press for the change.

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