- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2007

BALTIMORE — A federal prosecutor told jurors yesterday that a man accused in a fatal carjacking confessed to pointing out the Annapolis victim as a target for theft, but a defense attorney said the confession resulted from police scare tactics “right out of Hollywood.”

Leeander J. Blake, 22, has been charged under federal law in the death of Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, nearly five years ago. It was the first homicide since 1968 in the historic district of Annapolis, not far from the State House and the U.S. Naval Academy.

The federal case was brought after charges against him were thrown out of state court.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that police violated the suspect’s Miranda rights when they obtained an incriminating statement from him after he had asked to speak to a lawyer. The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case, but dismissed it without a ruling.

Another man, Terrence Tolbert, was convicted in 2005 of first-degree murder and other charges for killing Mr. Griffin. Tolbert was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Purcell told jurors about the slaying, describing how the successful video-projection businessman in the music industry was shot in the head and run over by his own sport utility vehicle on Sept. 19, 2002.

While Mr. Blake first declined to speak to police when he was arrested, he later told police his only involvement was in pointing Mr. Griffin and his vehicle out on a downtown Annapolis street because he and Tolbert were looking for someone to rob for a ride to Glen Burnie, Md.

Mr. Purcell told jurors that even Mr. Blake’s own confession of pointing a finger at Mr. Griffin as a target for the carjacking made him guilty in the case.

“Pointing a finger is enough,” Mr. Purcell told the jury. “If that’s all he did.”

Defense attorney Kenneth Ravenell underscored how a statement Mr. Blake gave police was obtained, which has been a strong point of contention in the case.

Mr. Blake, who was 17 at the time of the killing, initially refused to talk to police when he was arrested and was taken to jail in his underwear. A police officer brought him a copy of the charging documents, which said he could receive the death penalty if convicted, even though he would have been ineligible for execution because of his age.

Another officer then told Mr. Blake, “I bet you want to talk now, huh?”

Mr. Blake then decided to talk to police about a half-hour later, admitting that he was there, but was not the triggerman. In his statement, Mr. Blake blamed the murder on Tolbert, who testified during his trial that Mr. Blake was the gunman.

In court yesterday, Mr. Ravenell recounted what happened, raising his voice while reiterating the words used by the police officer for the jury. Mr. Ravenell said it was the sort of thing one might see in a movie.

“But it shouldn’t be right out of our system of justice,” Mr. Ravenell told jurors. “That’s for sure.”

An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge ruled that the statement couldn’t be used, and Anne Arundel County prosecutors ended up dropping charges against Mr. Blake.

But federal prosecutors indicted him last year on carjacking and other charges, saying there was new evidence in the case.

U.S. District Judge William S. Nickerson ultimately allowed Mr. Blake’s statement into evidence for the federal trial.

Jurors also heard testimony from Mr. Griffin’s fiancee, Virginia Rawls. She described their plans to marry and how Mr. Griffin was a successful and innovative businessman, whose Columbia, Md.-based company was at one time one of only four such companies to arrange video presentations at concerts.

Annapolis Police Officer Richard Mioduszewski, who initially responded to the crime scene, described seeing Mr. Griffin’s body in the street, unresponsive and bleeding profusely with a black mark across his stomach from where he had been run over.

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