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Arkadelphia Siftings Herald - Arkadelphia, AR
  • Griffin sentenced

  • Man receives life sentence plus 10 years for 2013 murder.
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  • John Chad Griffin received a life sentence plus 10 years Thursday afternoon in the January 2013 shooting death of David Stewart at an Arkadelphia residence.
    Griffin, 43, pleaded guilty Wednesday to first-degree murder. 
    During the two-day sentencing phase of the bench trial, Clark County Circuit Judge Robert McCallum heard testimony from 16 people in five hours of court proceedings.
    Griffin was represented by public defenders Timothy Beckham and Janice Williams; Prosecutor Blake Batson and Deputy Prosecutor Dan Turner represented the state.
    On Wednesday afternoon, the officers with the Arkadelphia Police Department who responded to the Jan. 16 homicide all testified they arrived to find a juvenile boy in the street. He was escorted to a home across the street, where a family friend took him in as the crime scene was investigated.
    Officers discovered Stewart's body in the living room floor, with Melissa French, who called 911, attempting CPR. Griffin was found in a bedroom along with a gun and a shotgun and a box of shells.
    On Thursday, Stewart's stepfather, Roy Holbrook, offered a victim impact statement on behalf of the family. Showing photos of Stewart from the time he was a child to the weeks before his death, a sobbing Holbrook told the judge he raised Stewart as his own son. About six other relatives sat in the gallery, also weeping as Holbrook described Stewart as someone many of his relatives could console with. "I loved my son," Holbrook said.
    In cross examination, Beckham inquired about Stewart's criminal history, and it was said that he did have a terroristic threatening charge about a year prior to his murder.
    Before resting, prosecutors entered a domestic assault charge against Griffin as evidence.
    The defense then began calling their witnesses, beginning with Scott Clark, a special agent with the Arkansas State Police who oversaw the homicide investigation. Clark testified that only Stewart's body was sent to the state Crime Lab and that no fingerprints or gunpowder residue was collected as evidence.
    French then took the stand, shedding light on the events that led up to the murder.
    She testified that Griffin, whom she has known since grade school, rented a room from her while he worked at Sav-U-Mor in Arkadelphia. French and Griffin were not romantically involved, though she and Stewart had been and had a child together.
    She said that Stewart had left his wife three days before the murder and gone to her 13th Street home without her consent, parking his car at Walmart and leaving it there while he hid out in French's home. French said her parents "disapproved of him" and that they had no knowledge he was staying there.
    On the afternoon of the murder, Griffin purchased a half-gallon of bourbon, and he and Stewart "commenced to drinking" heavily, French said, adding that she didn't partake that evening.
    Page 2 of 4 - As she was preparing the juvenile for bed and doing laundry, French said, Stewart and Griffin began a heated argument, with Stewart in Griffin's face. French said she attempted to calm them down when Stewart yelled, "I'm not talking to you!"
    French said that while she was in the kitchen later, Stewart commented that "things were fixin' to get bad" and began putting on his shoes on a sofa in the living room. "Chad walked in with a shotgun and all a sudden he took aim and shot David in the back of the head," French said.
    In cross examination, Batson showed French a transcript of her conversation with police that night, when she apparently recalled that Stewart warned her of Griffin. Stewart apparently told her, "Be careful of [Griffin] because when things get bad, they're going to get real bad."
    French's parents both testified that Griffin was a family friend who cared for the juvenile, taking long walks with him and putting pennies on the railroad tracks to come back later for them once they were flattened. "He loved [the juvenile] with all his heart," Pat French, the mother, said of Griffin, adding that the boy has visited Griffin twice at the jail.
    Finally, Griffin took the stand.
    Born and raised in Searcy, Griffin attended college at various schools in Arkansas. He married and fathered twins, and ran into Melissa at Walmart in Arkadelphia, where the two caught up on each other's lives. He said he soon rented the room from her and was working to pay child support to his ex-wife.
    Regarding the night of the murder, Griffin testified he began drinking heavily with intentions to become intoxicated and fall asleep. He said he watched television with Stewart that night, and that was his last recollection of the evening. He said he remembers "snapshots" of hearing a bang in the living room, the smell of gunshot and hearing Melissa screaming as he lay in his bedroom looking at the ceiling.
    Addressing Stewart's family, he offered apologies: "I'm so sorry for what I've done to y'all. The heartache, the sorrow … I would trade places with David if I could."
    In the prosecution's cross examination, Griffin testified that he purchased the shotgun from his boss in late 2012 (it was later pointed out that his possession of the firearm violated the protection order his ex-wife had against him). He also testified he had spent 10 months in the Clark County Jail for the domestic assault charge.
    In closing arguments, Batson reiterated testimony that Griffin walked up behind Stewart and shot him point-blank with a shotgun while an unarmed Stewart was putting on his shoes. Batson also pointed to testimony from Melissa French, who said that Stewart had warned her about Griffin.
    Page 3 of 4 - Batson said that Griffin "robbed [Stewart's] children of their dad" and reminded the judge of police officers' testimony that a juvenile was present during the murder.
    He concluded: "I haven't heard one single reason not to give this man life" in prison.
    The defense argued that French's parents both testified Griffin was like a part of their family and cared for the juvenile. Public defender Timothy Beckham said that, prior to Griffin's change in plea, the defense was "ready to go after Melissa French as aggressively as we could" because investigators had obtained neither fingerprints from the shotgun used in the homicide nor other crucial evidence to prove that Griffin had committed the crime.
    If that had been the case, Beckham added, the juvenile would have been called to testify. "Chad didn't want [him] to relive this," he said. "It takes a strong man to potentially sacrifice his life so a 7-year-old wouldn't have to testify." Also, Griffin didn't want any "disparaging" comments made about the victim — something the defense would've done had the case gone to trial, Beckham said.
    But the state concluded the argument, noting that none of the circumstances surrounding the homicide made it a defendable offense under statute. Turner called the homicide an "extremely vicious and violent offense."
    Regarding Stewart's criminal history, Turner said his "faults are completely irrelevant. … One thing I do know is that he'll never be able to be a father … or a brother." Turner showed McCallum a crime scene photo that showed Stewart's body in the living room floor of the French residence. "This is what [the juvenile] saw," Turner said, adding that no amount of counseling will help him get over what he witnessed.
    Finally, Turner pointed to the fact that Griffin had purchased a firearm while under a protection order, a violation of a court order, "with no reason to own it."
    He concluded: "This offense is too dangerous not to impose a life sentence."
    The sentence was under advisement for about an hour and a half, with McCallum handing down the sentence at 3 p.m.
    McCallum said he considered Griffin's life history, with no evidence given to indicate any childhood abuse or neglect, as well as his violent history, which began with an assault case, the court-order violation and, finally, the Stewart murder.
    McCallum called the homicide "an ambush … committed in the presence of a child." He said he didn't believe Griffin's claim that he didn't remember the incident, as he reviewed the video evidence of the booking process, when Griffin offered an expletive-filled admission of guilt. His intoxication was not a defense, McCallum said, referring to a statute.
    Finally, McCallum pointed to the defense counsel's description of Stewart's character — a felon who didn't pay child support — but said there was no misconduct to contribute to the crime.
    Page 4 of 4 - The life sentence McCallum gave is the max for first-degree murder, and the additional 10 years, which will run concurrently, is the maximum on the sentence enhancement for committing the act in the presence of the child.
    The sentence may be appealed.
    Following the sentence, Batson said, "Justice was served for David Stewart, his family and our community."

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