Reginald “Reggie” Griffin, 53, was sentenced to death for the July 12, 1983 stabbing of James Bausley in a yard at the Moberly Correctional Center (then known as the Missouri Training Center for Men). In August 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court vacated Griffin’s conviction after finding the state had withheld evidence related to another prisoner who was likely involved in the murder.
That prisoner, Jeffrey Smith, was found with a sharpened screwdriver while attempting to leave the yard shortly after Bausley was killed; Smith was convicted of unlawful use of a weapon. The state Supreme Court found the prosecution had violated its Brady obligations by failing to disclose that information to Griffin, which would have bolstered his “alternate perpetrator” defense at trial. See: State ex rel. Griffin v. Denney, 347 S.W.3d 73 (Mo. 2011), cert. denied.
The 2011 vacatur of Griffin’s conviction was not the first time the Missouri Supreme Court had ruled in the case; it had previously vacated Griffin’s death sentence after finding the state wrongly relied on the criminal record of another prisoner with the same name as Griffin during the penalty phase of the trial. Griffin then received a life sentence and was removed from death row.
Another prisoner, Doyle Franks, was also convicted in connection with Bausley’s death; he admitted that he had killed Bausley and Griffin was not involved. A second co-defendant acquitted at trial had likewise denied that Griffin was involved.
In 2006, Paul Curtis, a prisoner who testified that he saw Griffin kill Bausley, admitted to state investigators that his testimony was false. He did not see Griffin commit the stabbing but lied at trial in exchange for benefits such as a transfer to another prison, money and a TV set.
Remarkably, state prosecutors made no mention of Curtis’ recantation during Griffin’s habeas corpus proceedings in 2011. When questioned about that non-disclosure at a November 2012 hearing, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Hawke told a judge that since the habeas proceedings were of a civil nature rather than criminal, the rules requiring pre-trial disclosure of exculpatory evidence did not apply. He said the state was “under no obligation to disclose” the evidence.
Although the state initially indicated it would retry Griffin for Bausley’s murder, the charges were dropped in October 2013 after prosecutors indicated they did not have sufficient evidence to convict him. Griffin had previously been released from prison on bond pending the state’s decision to retry him.
“Thirty years of life – essentially stolen by shoddy investigation and prosecution – cannot be returned to Reggie,” said Rita Linhardt with Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. “Restitution is in order. At least he is alive and finally truly free.”
Sources: Associated Press, www.huffingtonpost.com, www.sfgate.com, www.moberlymonitor.com