New Orleans jurors decided Thursday that a man they convicted of murder doesn't deserve to die, and they added an unusual footnote by expressing their hope that he may someday get parole.
Dedric Griffin, however, will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole, probation or suspension of sentence, as state law dictates. He is 24.
The jury's telling comment about parole came after an unprecedented attack by Griffin's attorneys, who painted the victim, 25-year-old Tiche Carter, as a hoodlum who himself had been arrested on a murder charge and who was likely dealing drugs when he was killed.
Griffin fatally shot Carter and seriously wounded Patrick Parker, 24, on Dec. 11, 1999, when the three young men who had grown up together, met at an abandoned f Mid-City house where crack cocaine was being cut into rocks.
The jury that found Griffin guilty of first-degree murder Wednesday night heard arguments Thursday to decide whether Griffin deserved a sentence of life or death. 0rleans Parish hasn't sent anyone to the state's death row since 1997, when Phillip Anthony was ordered there for the triple murder at the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen in the French Quarter.
Mercy was the deciding factor in Thursday's sentence, the jury told Judge Sharon Hunter after about an hour of deliberations. One juror said the panel hoped parole might be an option for Griffin, but the judge followed the law and sentenced the young man to life.
In a death penalty hearing, the rules change drastically A defendant's character and personal history is scrutinized — and on Thursday, so was the victim's.
Defense attorneys Dwight Doskey and Jeffrey Smith, both of the Orleans Parish Indigent Defender's office, aggressively went after Carter. It was the first time the public defender's office attacked a victim during a death-penalty hearing, Doskey said later.
Jurors learned of Carter's criminal record, which spanned 13 arrests on charges including murder and drug dealing. Par-ker, 24, was on parole for possession of marijuana and crack.
The offensive came after one of the victims' relatives described Carter as quiet and peaceful.
Carter had dealt in crack and heroin, his family confirmed. Carter's 18-year-old niece recalled how she and Carter had "smoked herb" together: And when he died, Carter was cutting crack into $10 and $20 rocks.
"He wasn't at the library studying to go off to college," Smith said.
Rules of evidence forbid such testimony about victims during the guilt phase of a trial.
Prosecutors Jacques LeBlanc and Jeff Burg tried to quell what they called 'victim bash ing," and they insisted Grimn take responsibility for what he did.
"Dedric Griffin lived by the sword and we're asking you that he should die by the sword," Burg said.
Smith, who has defended only death penalty cases for a decade, told jurors that only the most horrific crimes receive the ultimate punishment. He reminded them of the 1997 Pizza Kitchen case and of a 1995 case in which a jury gave life instead of death to Raymell Bright, who shot his own 6-month-old daughter to death to spite his ex-fiancee.
Griffin never denied shooting Carter and Parker but said it was self-defense. However, Parker testified that Griffin was the only one with a gun.
The death penalty just didn't fit Griffin's crime, Smith said.
"He's a normal young black man, but something went wrong and he killed," Smith said. "Please say life, that sweet, sweet life."
Orleans Parish juries have been loath to hand down death sentences in the past decade. A death penalty hearing hasn't taken place since July 18, and even then prosecutors withdrew their effort at the last minute.
The proceeding reflected the shared grief of two mothers.
"Don't kill Dedric, Jesus," Shirron Griffin cried out from the witness stand as several jurors reached for tissues. "I don't want you to hurt my baby."
Her son, who sat in quiet resolve during his trial, cried as his mother pleaded for him. Iris Carter appeared to tell jurors how she has worked hard to accept her son's death. "I wake up and I'm grieving. I go to sleep and I'm grieving," she said. walk around and see other people's children and it hurts.
She keeps no pictures of her son on display in her home. She takes "nerve pills" and fights depression. At times, she will see a young man walking down the street and call out for her son before the truth stops her cold.
"I'll really be thinking I'll be seeing him," Carter said. "But I know the dead can't come back."
Gwen Filosa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3304
The Times-Picayune, Friday, February 22, 2002
By Gwen Filosa, Staff writer
NO. killer eludes death row, gets life
Parole no option despite jury request