- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

BALTIMORE — A young man who escaped trial in state court was convicted in federal court yesterday of killing an Annapolis businessman during a carjacking.

Leeander J. Blake, 22, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison after being convicted of charges including first-degree murder and carjacking resulting in death.

Blake was 17 on Sept. 19, 2002, when he shot and ran over Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, with Mr. Griffin’s sport utility vehicle. It was the first slaying since 1968 in the historic district of Annapolis, not far from the State House and the U.S. Naval Academy.

Much of the legal wrangling in Blake’s case revolved around a statement he gave to police in October 2002. At first, he refused to talk to investigators and asked to speak to a lawyer, but after an officer showed Blake a copy of charging documents that wrongly listed death as a possible penalty, Blake told police that he had pointed out Mr. Griffin as a potential target for robbery.

Blake was not eligible for the death penalty because he was younger than 18. Ultimately, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that police violated Blake’s Miranda rights by obtaining the incriminating statement after Blake had asked to speak to a lawyer, and charges against him were thrown out of state court. The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case but dismissed it without a ruling.

Blake’s co-defendant, Terrence Tolbert, was convicted in 2005 of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

Blake was indicted by a federal grand jury last year, and U.S. District Judge William S. Nickerson ultimately allowed Blake’s statement into evidence for the federal trial.

That decision would be the focal point of an appeal, defense attorney Kenneth Ravenell said.

“We took this case to the Supreme Court once before, and we intend to continue to fight,” said Mr. Ravenell, who added that he was disappointed but not surprised by the verdict. “The judge allowed a statement to be introduced where there was, in many respects, a confession to the crime.”

Mr. Griffin’s relatives and friends wiped away tears as they discussed the verdict outside the courthouse.

“Justice was done,” said Virginia Griffin, the victim’s mother. “But we’re not happy. Nobody’s happy. …It’s been hell. We’ve been going through this and having motions and hearings and trials for almost five years.”

Mrs. Griffin and Linda Griffin, the victim’s sister, said their sympathies went out to Blake’s family.

“They’ve lost a son, also,” Miss Griffin said.

Sentencing was set for Aug. 28.