On January 12, 1996, Daniel Gristwood, a machine repairman, got off work at 11:45 p.m., went out for beers with co-workers, and arrived home shortly after 3 a.m. in Clay, New York, to find his 26-year-old wife, Christina, in bed, covered in blood, but alive.
She had been bashed in the head with a hammer, which was found next to her bed.
After his wife was taken to a hospital, Gristwood, 29, was questioned by police and gave a statement detailing his night. Gristwood came under suspicion when a neighbor told police that between 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. she saw Gristwood’s car parked in front of his home--she had worried about hitting it when she backed out to take her babysitter home.
After 16 hours of questioning with no food and with no sleep for 34 hours, Gristwood signed a statement admitting that he struck his wife with a hammer.
“I am very sorry that I did this to my wife because I love her more than anything in the world,” the statement said.
He was charged with attempted murder.
Seven months later, Gristwood was tried in Onondaga County State Supreme Court.
No physical evidence linked him to the attack. Although the crime scene was very bloody, Gristwood had no blood on him or his clothing, and police found no evidence in the sink drains or anywhere else that he’d cleaned himself up.
Kimberly Lumpkin, the neighbor who saw Gristwood’s car across the street around 11 p.m., gave a different story when Gristwood’s lawyer, James Hopkins, called her as a defense witness in the trial.
Lumpkin said her police statement was wrong—she actually saw the car somewhere between midnight and 8 a.m.
Christina Gristwood could not testify. She was in an assisted living facility, paralyzed on one side and brain-damaged.
On Aug. 20, 1996, the jury deliberated for six hours before convicting Gristwood of second-degree attempted murder.
Justice John Brunetti sentenced Gristwood to the maximum term of 12½ to 25 years in prison.
Two months after the Gristwood beating, 24-year-old Mastho Davis attacked a 28-year-old woman in her apartment in Syracuse. He beat her, choked her and threatened to kill her. He later pleaded guilty to attempted burglary and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Shortly after his release, in 2002, Davis was accused of accosting a woman in the basement laundry room of an apartment building while he was naked. While in jail, he told sheriff’s deputies that said he wanted to talk about a murder he committed years earlier. He said he had attacked Christina Gristwood and, mistakenly, believed that he had killed her.
When he appeared in Onondaga County Court, he told Judge Anthony Aloi that he wanted to admit to a murder. Aloi told him to talk to his lawyer, who could talk to prosecutors. But nothing happened.
Finally, in August of 2003, he walked into the Syracuse Police department headquarters and said he wanted to confess. Police finally took a six-page statement from him in which he admitted the hammer assault.
Davis told police had wandered accidentally into the Gristwood apartment, thinking it was the place where he was staying. He gave a detailed description of items in the home and where the five Gristwood children were sleeping. He said he saw a hammer and began thinking of how his life had gone wrong. He said he went upstairs, saw Gristwood in bed and attacked her.
Over the next two years, Gristwood’s defense lawyer gathered evidence and obtained a hearing on the new evidence.
In August 2005, Judge Brunetti vacated Gristwood’s conviction, saying that there was “unassailable corroboration” of Davis’ confession.
Gristwood was freed on bond in August 2005. The charges were dismissed on July 15, 2006.
Not long after, Davis, who could not be charged with attacking Christina Gristwood because the statute of limitations had expired, was convicted of beating and raping a 75-year-old woman in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. He was sentenced to life in prison.
On May 1, 2013, the New York Court of Claims ordered the State of New York to pay Gristwood $5.5 million in damages. The state appealed the award, but ultimately lost the appeal. In September 2014, the State paid Gristwood $7.5 million dollars (the original $5.5 million plus interest accumulated since the original verdict).
Gristwood died of lung cancer in January 2015.
– Maurice Possley