Father testifies he was too busy to see neglect

The Baltimore Sun

Taking the witness stand to defend himself against charges of abuse and murder in the death of his young son, John J. Griffin said yesterday he had been too busy with work to notice the boy's worsening condition, and that he had not seen any wounds on the child before taking him to the hospital, where a doctor pronounced him dead.

In the two months preceding the death of Andrew Griffin on Dec. 26, 2007, when he was almost 3 years old, his father said he was so consumed with his job as a computer systems engineer that he sometimes worked 18-hour stints and, leaving home early and returning late, would often not see Andrew for days at a time. In fact, Griffin said, during those two months he saw Andrew awake only once or twice.

Griffin said he was "not given any option to neglect" his work.

Asked by his lawyer, Joseph Murtha, to account for his contention that he had not seen any physical injuries on the child, Griffin said, "I cannot remember seeing Andrew unclothed during that time."

Griffin and his wife, Susan, both 39, are on trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court on charges of first-degree murder and child abuse leading to death. They are being represented by different attorneys.

A forensic pathologist testified for the prosecution on Monday that the severely emaciated child had died not as a result of the wounds and bruises on his body, extremities and head, but of starvation.

John Griffin's sometimes tearful testimony yesterday appeared to be part of an effort to shift blame to his wife, with whom he acknowledged having a difficult relationship, most notably after her mother's demise in May 2007. Later that year, he began sleeping alone on a couch in their rented house in Rodgers Forge and sometimes worked into the night. "She was kind of venting and lashing out at me, and that caused a lot of strife between us," Griffin said.

His wife often "took refuge," he said, in the master bedroom, where Andrew occasionally slept and where his father discovered him in the bassinet, his eyes open but unresponsive, on the day he died. His wife was lying on a bed nearby, Griffin said, oblivious to the fact that her son had stopped breathing.

She was Andrew's primary caregiver, Griffin insisted. "I did not know specifically if he was going to the doctor - I had assumed that he was."

Under cross-examination by prosecutor Robin S. Coffin, he was asked whether he had noticed Andrew's marked weight and hair loss during a Thanksgiving party in 2007, photographs of which were presented as evidence. "Did that not alarm you one whit?" Coffin asked.

"It caused me concern but it did not cause me alarm," he said. "Andrew never had a full head of hair."

Asked in court to look at a picture of the wisps on the boy's head, Griffin conceded the point. "Yes," he said. "Looking at it today, it is alarming."

Coffin noted several inconsistencies between Griffin's testimony in court and his interview with a detective shortly after the boy's death. "In retrospect," he replied, "I'm not sure my recollection is accurate."

Griffin had asserted that, other than a "flulike illness" in the fall of 2007 that had caused Andrew to lose weight, he was unaware of any problem with his son's health. "I did not have concerns about Andrew's weight loss because I thought things were being done to address Andrew's weight loss," he said yesterday, adding that he thought the children were being fed properly because the family's groceries were "being consumed."

There is no allegation that the couple's other children were being mistreated, although neighbors on Old Trail Road said the kids were often dirty, a complaint that prosecutors said was also raised by a Department of Social Services representative who saw two of the Griffin children.

Their father acknowledged that, for the whole day on Dec. 25, 2007, no one brought Andrew downstairs so that he could partake in what turned out to be his last Christmas. "I believed what my wife told me, that he was suffering from a cold and that she was nursing him back to health," Griffin testified.

When police searched the bedroom the next day, after the boy's death, they found a Christmas present in a wrapped box, a gift to Andrew from his paternal grandmother. It was unopened.

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