WASHINGTON – The family of Straughan Lee Griffin was devastated Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a Maryland case rendering the state incapable of trying Leeander Jerome Blake for Griffin’s 2002 carjacking and murder.
Less than two weeks after hearing oral arguments in the case, the court dismissed it without comment.
“We were expecting some sort of ruling one way or another,” said Linda Griffin, the victim’s sister. “To have it dismissed was not something we expected at all.”
The Supreme Court’s refusal to make a decision in the case allows the Maryland high court finding to stand.
Maryland’s court found police violated Blake’s rights and that statements he made while in their custody cannot be used against him in court.
Under the Maryland law in effect at the time, the state cannot try Blake for the carjacking and murder because it lost its pretrial motion to have his statements to police used as evidence.
“We are disappointed that the Supreme Court did not decide on the issue before them,” said Kevin Enright, a spokesman for the Maryland Attorney General’s office, which argued the case at the Supreme Court. Enright declined further comment.
“We are happy.” said Blake’s attorney, Kenneth Ravenell. “Our client is elated.”
That’s not the case with Griffin’s family, which is still trying to accept the fact that Blake’s case is over.
“My brother is dead and one of the young men who actually confessed to participating in it is free,” Griffin said.
According to court records, her brother was in front of his home in Annapolis’s historic district on Sept. 19, 2002, when two carjackers approached, shot him in the head and ran over him as they drove away.
About a month later, 17-year-old Blake was arrested his house in the early hours of a cold morning and taken to the Annapolis Police Department wearing just a tank top and boxer shorts.
After hearing his rights, Blake requested a lawyer and was left alone in his cell.
A half an hour later, an officer and a detective presented him with a list of the charges against him, which included “DEATH” as a possible consequence.
“I bet you want to talk now, huh?” said the officer, who was quickly rebuked by the detective.
Less than an hour later, Blake asked police if he could talk, then did –alone, without a parent or a lawyer.
The lawyer eventually provided to Blake, Ravenell, successfully argued that the police officer’s comment was an improper interrogation technique that violated his client’s rights and that nothing Blake said that night should be heard by a jury.
When the case went to the Supreme Court, many legal experts speculated that the court’s ruling would clarify its 1981 Edwards v. Arizona decision, which stated that police must stop all interrogation once a suspect in custody requests a lawyer.
As it turns out, the court said nothing and its dismissal of the case only affected those directly involved in the crime.
However, the case had an impact in Maryland well before the Supreme Court got involved.
It exposed a loophole in the law that would allow people accused of crimes to go free without a trial.
The “good part of this case is that we got the law changed,” said Frank Weathersbee the state’s attorney for Anne Arundel County where the case originated.
Another defendant was convicted in the case.
Terrence Tolbert grew up with Blake in an Annapolis public housing community and was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the murder plus 30 years for armed carjacking.
At his trial, Tolbert said although they were both trying to steal a car, Blake was the one who pulled the trigger.
Although the state cannot put Blake on trial, Weathersbee has not resigned himself to the idea that the Griffins will not be able to see him tried.
Since carjacking is a federal offense, Weathersbee is trying to persuade the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Rod Rosenstein, to try Blake in federal court.
“All I can tell you is that we are going to meet with the state authorities and review the evidence and we’ll determine if we think that federal charges are appropriate,” Rosenstein said.
Regardless of what happens, the Griffins must keep working to move on without their loved one.
“I hope Mr. Blake, who’s been given an incredible second chance uses it wisely and makes something positive of his life,” Griffin said. “That would help.”