The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a Mansfield man who murdered his six-year-old daughter in July of 2009. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Griffin.
The defendant and the victim’s mother had dated in 2002 and the victim was born in 2003. She lived with her mother and the defendant also lived in the home periodically during the next several years. It was a chaotic household, as the victim’s three half-brothers (children from the victim’s mother’s prior relationships) also lived in the home. One of the half-brothers was placed in a residential treatment facility after concerns surfaced that he was engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior. In 2009, the victim’s mother told the defendant she was planning to move to North Carolina with the victim to be close to her new boyfriend, but it would take about a year for her to get her affairs in order to allow her to leave Massachusetts. The defendant began living with the victim’s mother again at that time and resumed his sexual relationship with her. However, he became upset upon learning she was also continuing her sexual relationship with her North Carolina boyfriend. A couple of weeks before the murder, the victim’s mother asked the defendant to once again move out of the house. He moved into a camper that was owned by one of his friends and spent much of July of 2009 caring for his friend’s father who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. On July 23rd, the defendant called to speak to the victim, who had already gone to bed. The victim’s mother told him he could call the victim over the weekend, but they were going to be traveling either to Washington D.C. or North Carolina. The defendant was upset his daughter was being taken from him. Later that night, the defendant walked to the victim’s house while carrying a knife. When he arrived, the defendant cut the exterior phone lines, broke into the house, turned off the electricity, and entered the victim’s bedroom. After sitting with his daughter for a period of time, the defendant put his hand over her mouth and killed her by slitting her throat. He then attempted to clean up the murder scene with disinfectant wipes and left the house. A police officer later approached the defendant as he walked on the street and the defendant admitted to the killing. He was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and home invasion. He was convicted by a superior court jury and he appealed.
The defendant asserted at trial he was not criminally responsible for the murder. He said immediately before the murder, he had been praying and God told him the only way to protect his daughter was to send her to heaven. Accordingly, the defendant killed his daughter and was planning to kill himself but was unable to do so. The Supreme Judicial Court had no problem concluding the Commonwealth had proven the defendant was criminally responsible at the time of the murder. The defendant’s calculated decisions to cut the phone and electrical lines before the killing and his efforts to clean up the crime scene constituted the type of planning to suggest the defendant was sane. Further, there was evidence the defendant had been acting normally in the weeks prior to the crime by assisting with the care of his friend’s father. Finally, the defendant had motive to kill the victim in order to hurt the victim’s mother, who the defendant blamed for many of the problems in his life.
The defense of lack of criminal responsibility is rarely successful. When the facts are as horrific as they were in this case, the defendant had no chance. He will spend the rest of his life in state prison.