Sunday, January 13, 2008

     

 

 

 

 

  Griffin murder trial opens in Kaufman
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer

KAUFMAN–A large screen on the wall of the 422nd District Court room, presided over by Judge B. Michael Chitty, displayed the gruesome scene of the body of Cheri Lynn Duggan, 38.
Daniel Joseph Griffin, 35 at the time of the crime, is on trial for Duggan’s murder and the rape of one of her teenaged daughters.
The crime took place at the Duggan home, about six miles east of Kaufman.
He was arrested in Houston Oct. 12, 2006, just three days after the murder.
Wednesday, Griffin was a picture of a clean-cut young man. He was dressed in a light gray, soft tweed sport coat, a gold and brown tie and dark trousers. With close cut hair and glasses, he could have easily been mistaken for a young professional.
But during the opening statements, District Attorney Rick Harrison described Griffin as a “ticking time bomb” that needed to be put away.
Duggan was the mother of his 19-year-old girlfriend, Christina Harrison, to whom he said the act was in self-defense.
Two other daughters were 15 and 17 at the time of the stabbing. Griffin was later charged with raping the 15-year-old.
Defense attorney Dennis Patman Jones questioned Dallas medical examiner Dr. Reed Quinton at length, discussing the possibility of self-defense.
Of the 11 wounds on Duggan’s body, there were seven stab wounds and two cuts on the back of her neck.
“They were not all vertical, some parallel,” Jones remarked.
He then asked if the doctor could tell which was first and last and if any one in particular could be the cause of death.
“I couldn’t tell where it (the stabbing) started. It was consistent with someone from behind,” Quinton stated.
There were no defense wounds on her hands, Quinton confirmed.
Harrison showed the jury photos taken at the scene by Sgt. Tim Moore, a criminal investigator with the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Department.
Among the several photos included was a dramatic scene of the blood pooled on the floor and into the carpet.
The possibility of defensive wounds came up over a photo of Griffin’s hands which had small cuts on them.
Jones asked Quinton if the wounds could be defensive.
“They could be,” he replied.
Harrison then brought out the knife reported to be the murder weapon.
The small knife was similar to a paring knife with no hilt.
The knife would have been difficult to hold, Harrison explained and brought up the possibility that was how Griffin got his cuts.
Prosecution witness Sgt. Jolie Stewart, criminal investigator with the Sheriff’s Department, was called in connection with the interview in Houston when Duggan was arrested.
She and Texas Ranger Chris Clark from the Dallas office recorded the interview, just after he was arrested at about 3:40 p.m.
Stewart testified Christina Harrison (not related to the D.A.) had already been interviewed.
The digital recording presented a much different Griffin than the one present in the coutroom. He sat at a table, his hands cuffed behind his back. He was wearing baggy shorts, no shirt, no glasses, and his head was down most of the time. Griffin was read his rights.
He was then asked to explain his side of the story.
“Christina said it was self-defense,” Clark said on the video.
The recording was paused, and Stewart answered questions concerning interview methods.
“When we interview somebody, we use a friendly approach to try and keep them talking,” she said.
The video was then resumed, and Griffin was heard to say, “I don’t want to give any type of statement without an attorney.”
However, he kept answering their questions.
The video was blurry and the sound was poor and Griffin spoke in low tones as he was told what happened.
Several times, Harrison had to stop the video and explain what was said.
Griffin complained his in-laws didn’t like him because of the age difference between himself and Christina.
Griffin recounted that he and Christina were smoking crack in a tent beside the house during the night of Oct. 8.
Duggan challenged him as to what he was doing. He said he answered “Sleeping,” and she called him a liar.
“An argument started and everything exploded. She swung at me to slap me,” Griffin said
Clark asked him if after the fight had he known what he had done.
“Did you know she was lying in there hurt pretty bad?” Clark asked.
“I could imagine,” he replied.
“Did you know she was dead?” Clark asked.
“I kind of figured,” Griffin quietly replied.
Clark asked him if they (Christina and he) had taken anything from the house.
The answer was approximately $18, several checks, a debit card and a cell phone.
Griffin said he had kept the phone away from Christina, had told her the blood on his clothes was from the dog, and kept repeating she was “not a part of anything.”
“I told her that her mom was tied up; okay, but not hurt,” Griffin said.
Speaking again about Duggan, “She flew off the handle. Up to that time, I never put a hand on a woman.
“It’s my fault. Christina had no part in what went on in that bedroom,” Griffin repeated several times.
Shelly Johnson, parole officer out of Tyler, said Griffin was released from jail on March 8, 2006, and assigned to her office.
He was transferred to Van Zandt County in April and was due to be released from parole Oct. 22, 2006. He was still on parole when the crime occurred. He was not living in the approved area or an approved residence.
Jones asked for the jury’s removal and then requested an obstructed verdict. He said the accounts of retaliation was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt (concerning Griffin acting out of anger toward the victim).
Chitty denied the request.
Jones then asked the court to rule the capital murder charge unconstitutional.
Jones reasoned the terms “lost it” and “flew off the handle” could represent sudden passion.
“If the jury finds for sudden passion and reduces the charges from capital to second degree murder, they can hold a sentencing phase,” Jones explained.
He said the capital murder charge does not allow the jury to rule on sudden passion.
Harrison disagreed, and the motion was denied.
Jones then said Griffin didn’t have the mental capacity, due to a cocaine delirium, to decide knowingly or intentionally other options in the argument with Duggan.
Harrison said Jones was trying to negate the defense with a back-door approach to an insanity defense by using the voluntary alcohol- or drug-use statutes.
Jones said he wasn’t, but Chitty stepped in.
“A reference to cocaine delirium is either insanity or voluntary cocaine use and should be used in a punishment phase only, not a guilt or innocence phase,” Chitty said.
Chitty instructed both attorneys to research and bring all they could on the matter to the trial Thursday.
The defense called two character witnesses, Wanda Sewell, a friend of his mother, Penny Griffin and her sister, Delores Carlyle.
Sewell testified she had been his mother’s friend for 50 years and had known Daniel Griffin all his life.
“I never saw him angry. He went to church with me three or four times,” Sewell said.
Carlyle, said she currently lives with Penny in Seagoville.
“I have always found him to be very personable, a joy to be around,” she said.
Jones informed the judge and the prosecution that Griffin has asked to testify in his own defense.
The judge cautioned Griffin and explained he had the right to change his mind up to the last minute.
Later, a tearful Penny told this reporter she was sorry and disappointed at what her son had done, but he was taking responsibility for his actions.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect for him for doing that. I am still very proud of him,” she said.
 

Prison pink to inspire ex-cons from returning
Photo by Donna Limberger

Van Zandt County Jail inmates made their first public appearance Tuesday sporting new pink uniforms. Not only is the attire pink, jail cells are Pepto Bismol® pink, as well. The uniforms are part of a plan implemented by Van Zandt County Sheriff R.P. “Pat” Burnett to reduce the number of repeat offenders at the facility.

 

City tax rollback election – Jan. 19
By Michael V. Hannigan
Monitor Staff Writer

MALAKOFF–Now that the Christmas lights have been put away, folks can get down to the business of the Malakoff tax rollback election.
And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing.
Phil Tucker and David Thompson, the main organizers in the fight against the current tax rate, mailed a letter to all registered voters last week criticizing the city for its inaction in negotiating a new electric rate.
The letter came under the banner “Malakoff Citizens For Lower Taxes.”
They would like residents to vote for the rollback to tell “the city that you want your tax dollars to be spent wisely and not to just increase rates without reducing all possible cost to run the city.”
On the other side, a town hall meeting has been scheduled immediately following the City Council meeting 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14, at City Hall.
City officials said the purpose of the meeting is to provide information to the public concerning the tax rollback election and to answer any question concerning the election.
The city would like residents to vote against the rollback, officials say, because it has suffered in recent years from a lack of income.
City officials said that the tax rate in Malakoff has declined steadily since 1994.
The election is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 19. Polls will be open at City Hall that day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The election is to decide whether the Malakoff ad valorem tax rate should be left at the35-cent per $100 valuation set by the City Council in September, or set back to the rollback rate of 22 cents.
The rollback process was initiated when Tucker and Thompson issued their first letter against the tax rate in October, mailed to nearly all registered voters, and collected 193 signatures on a petition asking for the election.
Tucker and Thompson also led the protest Sept. 24 when the council approved the current tax rate of 35 cents per $100 valuation, an increase from last year’s 24-cent rate.
One of the issues at that time was the price Malakoff was paying for electricity. Electricity came up again in the letter the two men issued last week.
“When the tax rate meeting was held Sept. 24, the city was told how it could reduce over half the tax increase the city was requesting by negotiating a much lower electric rate,” the letter reads.
City Mayor Pat Isaacson said at that meeting, “We are going to do that, but we can’t today.”
That was almost four months ago, and still the city has not negotiated a new rate, the letter points out.
“We estimate the city could be saving over $6,000 a month. How far could this savings go to pay for city workers and police? How long will the city continue to waste our tax dollars?”
According to The Malakoff News report of Dec. 14, 2007, “The city council first began considering its energy options in February,” the letter continues. “The city did nothing to reduce its electrical costs during 2007, and here we are in 2008 and still no decision has been made to save our tax dollars.”
Reportedly, the city council spoke with a TXU consultant in February, 2007, at the public works director and co-city administrator Glen Herriage’s request.
The council has discussed the electric rate issue at each meeting since September, speaking with a consultant from LPB Energy in October and November.
In December, the council voted to wait until it heard from at least three consultants before making a decision.
Tuesday, Mayor Pat Isaacson responded to the Tucker and Thompson letter.
“The citizens are not being told all the facts in the letter dated Jan. 4, 2008. Yes, it has taken a while to negotiate a lower electric rate, but once you sign a contract you are obligated for two years, and we want to do what is best for all concerned,” she said.
Isaacson also said that about half the city’s electric cost comes from the water and sewer plants and is paid with water and sewer revenue, therefore the savings could not be invested in police or roads.
In addition, Isaacson took issue with the way Tucker and Thompson portrays the council.
“They imply that the council cares nothing about saving money and that we do not have the interest of the citizens at heart,” she said.
“This is not true. We give of our time willingly, and we receive no pay for what we do. Yes, we took these positions willingly, but what is and was best for Malakoff was always at the forefront of our running for office.
“These two gentlemen only show up at a council meeting when they think something is going to affect their wallets,” she continued. “They have never attended a budget workshop, which is always held three weeks prior to accepting the budget. They do not know what the council does on a regular basis, because they do not attend meetings.”
Isaacson also was concerned some residents are confused about how the rollback will affect water and sewer prices.
“No matter how you vote, it will not affect your water rate,” she said.
On one thing Isaacson, Tucker and Thompson agree: city taxes are not frozen for residents 65 and older.
“But you do receive a $7,500 tax exemption,” Isaacson said.
Not surprisingly, the two sides have chosen different ways to describe the tax increase.
• Those for the rollback say, “It’s a 49 percent tax hike.”
• Those against the rollback say, “It’s just 12 cents more per $100 valuation.”
Both sides are right.
A $63,000 home – the average home value in Malakoff according to U.S. Census data – would be assessed about $75 more in taxes this year compared to last.
Bridgepoint developer Tom Ewers, formerly the Malakoff Planning and Zoning Board chairman, said residents should remember the recent school bond election.
“A few years ago, the Malakoff ISD’s plans to build a new school in Tool was challenged because of the fear of higher taxes,” he said.
“Fortunately, the bond election passed, and the interest rate on the bonds was incredibly low. With fuel cost at an all-time high and with the reduced cost of maintaining equipment, it turned out to be a terrific benefit to the taxpayers and the students.
“Forward thinking helped reduce the overall city, county and school taxes, which are lower this year than last year. That means taxpayers will not feel the burden of the City of Malakoff tax increase this year,” Ewers said.
Tucker and Thompson say if the council did what it promised in September and renegotiated its electric rate, taxpayers wouldn’t feel the burden at all.
Either way, the question will be answered Saturday, Jan. 19.