At the sprawling Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Mo., 40-year-old Larry Griffin, convicted of murdering a teenager in a 1980 drive-by shooting, was put to death by lethal injection in the early morning hours of June 21, 1995. As stunning new revelations come to light, Jennifer Joyce, the chief prosecutor for the city of St. Louis, has agreed to launch an unprecedented investigation into whether the state executed an innocent man.
The decision is supported by a broad coalition that includes Griffin’s relatives, attorneys from the new York-based Innocence Project, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) and even family members of the victim, all of whom called for reopening the case at a July press conference.
Doubts about Griffin’s guilt were expressed soon after he was jailed. His appeals for a new trial, even a few weeks before his death, were denied time and time again. Doubts have resurfaced after a year-long probe by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). The report, released in June, raised questions about the original police investigation and the prosecution’s case.
On June 26, 1980, 19-year-old Quintin Moss, an alleged drug dealer, was murdered in broad daylight as bullets were fired from a car. Police quickly focused on Griffin because his older brother, Dennis, who also reportedly sold drugs, was murdered months earlier. Moss was believed to be responsible for the killing, and investigators believed Griffin murdered Moss for retribution.
Griffin was ultimately linked to the murder by Robert Fitzgerald, a convicted felon and admitted drug abuser, who faced jail time for multiple crimes. Fitzgerald claimed to have witnessed the shooting and identified Griffin through a photograph supplied by detectives.
Several witnesses, however, including a police officer at the scene of the crime, are now saying Fitzgerald was never at the scene.
“The only evidence against Larry Griffin has now been demolished,” says University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, who authored the LDF report. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that he is innocent.”
Professor Gross, who has worked with LDF on death penalty issues for 25 years, began to examine the Griffin case, alongside a team of independent investigators, last spring. Their investigation revealed that a person who was wounded during the shooting, as well as one of Moss’ sisters who had witnessed the shooting, were never contacted or interviewed by prosecution or defense attorneys.
These details and others have led even the murder victim’s family to support a new inquiry. “The family wants to see the truth come out because the police avoided them,” says Saul Green, an attorney for the Moss family. “They were victims in the process too.”
Clay, a fierce death penalty opponent, hopes the case of Griffin, who had always maintained his innocence, even up to the point of execution, will demonstrate why capital punishment is wrong. “The death penalty is such an inexact science,” says Clay. “I would think the Larry Griffin case could represent the beginning of the end for state sanctioned murder.”
This appeared in September / October 2005 issue of The Crisis
UPDATE: In 2007, the St. Louis City Attorney’s Office upheld Griffin’s conviction and execution.