Missouri Execution Case Reopened
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In St. Louis, Missouri, a death penalty case is being reopened 10 years after the defendant was executed. In 1995, Larry Griffin was put to death for the killing of 19-year-old Quinton Moss. As Maria Hickey of member station KWMU reports, the lawyers who worked on the case say the state executed the wrong man.
MARIA HICKEY reporting:
On a summer afternoon in 1980, Quinton Moss was gunned down while in what was then a crime-ridden area of St. Louis known as the Stroll. An attempt had already been made on his life weeks earlier. In this attack, a car pulled up, and Moss was shot 13 times. One year later, Larry Griffin was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. Griffin maintained his innocence until he was executed 10 years ago.
Attorneys with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund say they can prove Griffin's innocence. They say the prosecution depended on the testimony of one man who was already in the federal witness protection plan, and they say the prosecutors failed to call other significant witnesses, including Wallace Conners, who was hit by one of the bullets aimed at Moss. Conners moved away before the trial began. At a press conference earlier today, he says he knew Griffin and was shocked to learn he was executed for the crime.
Mr. WALLACE CONNERS (Witness): I tell all of you-all that Larry Griffin did not commit this here crime. He was not in the car and he wasn't the shooter.
HICKEY: Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor, supervised this new investigation. Gross says this may be the first case in the US to prove a defendant put to death by the state was actually innocent.
Professor SAMUEL GROSS (University of Michigan): There are cases of people who have been executed who are very likely innocent. There's no case that I know of where the evidence that's been produced in public is as strong as what we see here.
HICKEY: St. Louis Circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce says she decided to reopen the case after the NAACP and Missouri Congressman Lacy Clay brought the new information to her attention. Joyce says she understands the investigation's larger implications for the death penalty, but she insists she has no agenda.
Ms. JENNIFER JOYCE (St. Louis Circuit Attorney): There's two reasons: Number one, to pursue justice; and, number two, out of respect for the Griffin and the Moss families.
HICKEY: In 1981, Gordon Ankney prosecuted Griffin. Ankney remains convinced that Griffin was guilty.
Mr. GORDON ANKNEY (Prosecutor): I don't have any problem with them reopening or reinvestigating or whatever they want to do with the case. Larry Griffin was given a fair trial.
HICKEY: But Moss's older brother, Walter Moss Jr., says now that new information has surfaced about the case, his family has more questions than answers.
Mr. WALTER MOSS Jr. (Victim's Brother): Why did it take so long? Why couldn't our local officials sort this all out? Why are families, 25 years later, subjected to such an awful event?
HICKEY: Circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce says she has two top deputies on the case, but expects it could be some time before this investigation determines whether or not Larry Griffin was wrongfully put to death. For NPR News, I'm Maria Hickey in St. Louis.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.