State v. Griffin

Decision Date26 July 1988
Docket NumberNo. 69733,69733
Citation756 S.W.2d 475
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Milton GRIFFIN, Appellant.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Melinda K. Pendergraph, Columbia, for appellant.

William L. Webster, Atty. Gen., Elizabeth Levin Ziegler, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for respondent.

BILLINGS, Chief Justice.

Defendant Milton Griffin was convicted of two counts of first degree murder, § 565.020, RSMo 1986, for the killing of two robbery victims, Loretta Trotter and Jerome Redden. The jury assessed defendant's punishment at life imprisonment without eligibility for probation or parole for the killing of Trotter but was unable to agree upon defendant's punishment for the killing of Redden. The trial court assessed defendant's punishment for the killing of Redden at death. Affirmed.

Defendant has not preserved any challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions. However, it is useful to set forth the facts and reasonable inferences arising therefrom which the jury could reasonably have found in arriving at its verdict, ignoring evidence and inferences to the contrary. See State v. Griffin, 662 S.W.2d 854, 855 (Mo. banc 1983), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 873, 105 S.Ct. 224, 83 L.Ed.2d 153 (1984).

On the afternoon of August 14, 1986, George Vance, Ray Mitchell, Darren Walters, David Shed, and defendant met Antoine Owens at Owens' residence. Owens told the others about a plan he and defendant had to rob Jerome Redden of some stereo equipment which Redden kept in an apartment he shared with Loretta Trotter and their four month old son. This apartment was located above Redden Cleaners, which was owned by Redden's mother. Owens knew about the stereo equipment because his girlfriend, Pamela Trotter, was Loretta Trotter's sister and he and Pamela had often visited Redden and Trotter's apartment. Mitchell, Walters, and Shed agreed to go along with Owens and defendant to help them remove the stereo equipment from Redden and Trotter's apartment. Vance refused to take part. At some time during that afternoon or evening, Owens said he was going to "ice" (kill) Redden and Trotter during the robbery because they knew him.

After dark, the five participants took two cars, one of which had been stolen, and drove to Redden and Trotter's apartment. While waiting for a restaurant across the street to quiet down, they all got into one car where defendant and Owens passed a handgun back and forth.

When the street cleared defendant and Owens went to the door that led upstairs to the apartment over Redden Cleaners and knocked. Redden, calling down from a window, asked who it was. Owens identified himself and told Redden that he and defendant needed a ride home. Redden came down to take the two men home but defendant asked to use the bathroom before they left. Redden called up to tell Trotter that defendant and Owens wanted to come up. She told Redden not to let anyone in. Defendant asked Redden to go back up and get her to change her mind. Redden relocked the door and went to talk to Trotter. While Redden was gone, Owens handed defendant the gun they had been passing back and forth earlier and told defendant to use it to gain entry to the apartment when Redden returned. When Redden came back down he told defendant and Owens that Trotter still did not want them to come in. Then, as Redden was coming out the door to take the two men home, defendant and Owens pushed Redden back and forced their way upstairs into the apartment. Although defendant, in his statement, denied using the gun to threaten anyone at this time, or any other time, the jury could reasonably have disbelieved this and inferred from the evidence that defendant used the gun from this point in the robbery on to compel Redden and Trotter to do his and Owens' bidding.

Defendant and Owens, taking Redden with them, went up into the apartment and announced that this was a robbery. Redden and Trotter were ordered to lie on the floor in the living room. Trotter begged the two not to hurt them. She also tried to get up while screaming that her baby was in the apartment. While defendant and Owens tried to keep her on the floor, Redden yelled, "don't hurt her, don't hurt her." Defendant decided that Redden and Trotter needed to be tied up. When Trotter continued to yell after defendant tied her with an extension cord, he told Owens to take Redden into the kitchen. After they had gone, defendant grabbed Trotter from behind and applied pressure to the side of her neck in a choke hold until she passed out.

Defendant then went into the kitchen where he began to tie Redden. Redden began yelling, "don't hurt her, don't hurt her" again. At this time defendant heard Owens and Trotter struggling in the living room and he returned to that room where he saw that Trotter had freed herself from her bindings. After Trotter was subdued, defendant retied her with strips torn from a sheet.

Defendant then went back into the kitchen to find out from Redden "where the money was." Redden was still yelling "don't hurt her." At this time, the jury could reasonably believe that defendant began strangling Redden with an electrical cord and strips of torn cloth to keep him quiet because Redden's body was found with an electrical cord, entwined with several fragments of torn cloth, tied around the neck in a constricting manner. The medical examiner also found small pinpoint hemorrhages on Redden's body's lower eyelids which indicated that significant pressure was applied to Redden's neck while he was alive.

About this time, Trotter was stabbed twice in the lower chest and four times in the throat with a steak knife. One of the knife wounds to her chest penetrated about three inches and entered the heart. The wounds to the throat resulted in a 1/5 inch hole in Trotter's jugular vein. The medical examiner testified that the wound to Trotter's heart caused her death, but that none of her wounds would have resulted in instantaneous death. In his statement, defendant stated that Owens had stabbed Trotter in the throat while he was in the kitchen with Redden and that he had had nothing to do with her death. Defendant's statement does not account for the wounds to Trotter's chest. The jury could reasonably have discredited defendant's self-serving and incomplete story and believed instead that defendant and Owens had acted in concert to kill Trotter.

While defendant and Owens were in the living room with the bleeding Trotter, Redden was struggling against his bindings in the kitchen and hollering "what's going on man, what's going on." Defendant went back to the kitchen, grabbed a wrench, put his knee in Redden's back, and hit Redden in the back of the head with the wrench. Defendant stated that he hit Redden with the wrench only after Redden had freed his hands, picked up the wrench, and tried to hit defendant with it. Again, the jury could reasonably have disbelieved defendant's self-serving explanation and believed instead that defendant had meant to deliberately execute Redden.

The blow with the wrench knocked Redden out. Owens then stabbed Redden twice in the throat with the steak knife without managing to hit any major arteries or veins. Before Owens could strike again Redden came to and began struggling. While defendant tried to restrain him, Owens stabbed Redden twice in the abdomen, penetrating his liver. These wounds caused Redden to stop struggling and defendant used this opportunity to resecure Redden's bindings. Redden then started to struggle again. Defendant took a butcher knife and stabbed Redden four times in the chest, penetrating up to three inches into his left lung. Redden struggled no more.

The medical examiner testified that the cause of Redden's death was the blow to the back of his head. Death, however, was not necessarily quick. He doubted that any of the stab wounds would have been fatal.

After insuring that Redden and Trotter would bother them no more, defendant and Owens began gathering up stereo and television equipment to take out of the apartment. In the course of this activity, defendant took sheets and covered Redden and Trotter. Redden was still breathing when defendant put the sheet over him. Seeing the wrench with which he had struck Redden, defendant picked it up, wiped it off on the sheet with which he was covering Redden, and pitched it in the trash can.

Thirty minutes after defendant and Owens had entered the apartment, Owens came out carrying a potato chip bag in which he had placed the knives used to stab Trotter and Redden. Owens got into the car in which Ray Mitchell was sitting and they drove around the block, apparently to dispose of the knives. When they returned a short time later Owens told Darren Walters and David Shed to help defendant bring out Redden's stereo and television equipment. Defendant came out about this time and unlocked a van owned by Redden Cleaners with keys he had taken from Redden's pocket. Defendant, Walters, and Shed then loaded the van with the stereo and television equipment while Owens and Mitchell waited in the car. Before these three finished putting all the equipment in the van, four or five people came out of the restaurant across the street. This caused the whole group to decide to leave immediately. They left four speakers sitting in the hallway of the apartment. Redden and Trotter's baby also was left, unharmed, in the apartment.

The group drove back to Owens' house, taking three vehicles--the two cars which they had taken to Redden and Trotter's apartment and the Redden Cleaners van. After reaching the house, both Owens and defendant changed their bloodstained clothes. The group then took the stolen equipment to the home of Arulise Owens, Antoine Owens' cousin, to store it. While at Arulise's house, defendant told the others that he had "busted the guy's head, hit him in the head with a wrench." When they had finished unloading the...

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