- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — In a complex case that took nearly five years to conclude, a man who killed an Annapolis businessman during a carjacking was sentenced yesterday to life in federal prison.

Leeander J. Blake, 22, was convicted in June on charges including first-degree murder and carjacking resulting in death. Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, was shot in the head and run over with his sport utility vehicle on Sept. 19, 2002, in the first slaying since 1968 in the historic district of Annapolis.

Blake apologized in court to Mr. Griffin’s relatives and asked for their forgiveness.

“No one may think I’m sincere, but I really am, and I’m sorry,” he said.

After the sentence was announced, Mr. Griffin’s brother, sister and fiancee all embraced Blake’s mother, LaWanda Pierce. “Another mother just lost her son,” Neil H. Griffin said afterward. “That’s not a victory. There’s no victory in that.”

Charges against Blake were thrown out of state court after the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that police violated Blake’s Miranda rights by obtaining an incriminating statement after he asked for an attorney. But U.S. District Judge William S. Nickerson allowed the statement into evidence for Blake’s federal trial.

Blake told police that he and co-defendant Terrence Tolbert were looking for someone to rob and that he pointed out Mr. Griffin as a target.

The statement was given only after an officer showed Blake a copy of charging documents that wrongly listed death as a possible penalty. Blake was 17 at the time, making him ineligible for capital punishment.

Defense attorney Kenneth Ravenell asked for a 20-year sentence, arguing that Blake was less culpable than Tolbert, who is serving a life sentence after being convicted in state court in 2005. Testimony showed that Tolbert was behind the wheel of Mr. Griffin’s SUV when it ran over his body.

Prosecutors never put the gun in Blake’s hand, but that was not necessary to earn a conviction under the felony murder law.

Judge Nickerson said it was difficult for him to impose a sentence after hearing from Blake’s mother, who testified, “I didn’t raise my child to be a bad child,” but that he found no reason to stray from federal guidelines.

Reducing Blake’s sentence because he may not have been the triggerman would make “a mockery of justice,” Judge Nickerson said. “The justice of the felony murder rule is as clear as it can be.”