On July 12, 1983, a quarrel among inmates over a television set at a correctional facility in Moberly, Missouri, erupted into violence. James Bausley, 23, the inmate owner of the television, was stabbed to death.
During the subsequent investigation, two inmates, Paul Curtis and Wyvonne Mozee, told prison authorities that fellow inmate, 22-year-old Reginald Griffin, who was serving a 20-year sentence for an armed assault conviction in 1981, had stabbed Bausley. According to Curtis and Mozee, two other inmates, Doyle Franks and Arbary Jackson, helped Griffin.
Griffin, Franks and Jackson were charged with capital murder in 1987.
Griffin went on trial in Randolph County Circuit Court in January 1988. The prosecution relied primarily on the testimony of Curtis and Mozee. Curtis testified that he saw Griffin, Franks and Jackson arguing with Bausley over the television, and that Griffin hit Bausley in the back and stabbed him in the chest with a 12-inch homemade knife with a handle made from a yellow rag. Curtis said Griffin threw the knife onto the roof of the prison gymnasium and fled. Mozee died before the trial, but his preliminary hearing transcript was read to the jury. Mozee also testified that Griffin stabbed Bausley with a homemade knife. Mozee said Jackson, Franks and another inmate were there when Griffin stabbed Bausley.
Curtis stated that he agreed to testify in exchange for the prosecution’s promise to help him on unrelated theft charges and to write a letter to the parole board noting his cooperation. By the time of Griffin’s trial, Curtis had been paroled and the state had paid his rent for one month after his release.
The prosecution presented a 13-inch knife with a yellow cloth wrapped around the handle. The knife had been found nearby after the stabbing. A medical examiner said the knife could have caused Bausley’s wounds. While preliminary tests were positive for the presence of human blood, subsequent testing was negative for blood. There was no physical evidence linking Griffin to the knife or to the stabbing.
Griffin’s lawyers called two inmates, David Steele and Eddie Johnson, who testified that Mozee said he had a deal with prison authorities to testify against Griffin in return for an early release and that he said he was going to say “whatever they wanted just as part of the deal.” Johnson said Mozee admitted he had not seen the stabbing.
In January 1988, Griffin was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Franks went to trial separately and was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison to be served consecutively to a life sentence imposed in an unrelated case. Jackson was acquitted at another separate trial.
In 1993, Griffin’s death sentence was vacated because at the sentencing phase of his trial the criminal record of a different Reginald Griffin had been submitted by the prosecution to the jury by mistake. He was resentenced to life in prison without parole.
Over the years, Griffin lost his direct appeals and also lost numerous other attempts to attack his conviction. Along the way, Franks came forward and testified that Griffin had nothing to do with Bausley’s murder. As early as 1989, Franks testified that he and another inmate named Jeffrey Smith stabbed Bausley and a guard caught Smith with a knife shortly thereafter.
At an evidentiary hearing in 2007 on a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Curtis testified and recanted his trial testimony. Curtis said that he did not see the stabbing because he was attending a vocational auto mechanics class in a different part of the prison. Curtis testified that he learned details of the murder from Franks while in administrative segregation for an unrelated fighting incident. Franks, who was in an adjoining cell, openly bragged about committing the murder. Curtis said he lied because he was facing a transfer to Jefferson City, the highest security state prison at the time, and he feared for his safety, so he made a deal with authorities to implicate Griffin in return for parole.
At the hearing, Jackson testified that the stabbing was the result of an argument between Bausley, Franks and Smith over the television. Jackson testified that he tried to defuse the situation, but when Bausley, Franks and Smith pulled out knives, he walked away.
At the hearing, Griffin’s attorney argued that the prosecution had failed to disclose the confiscation of the knife from Smith immediately after Bausley was stabbed.
Griffin’s motion for a new trial was denied.
In August 2011, however, the Missouri Supreme Court ordered a new trial. The court found that the prosecution violated Griffin’s constitutional right to a fair trial by withholding the evidence relating to Smith and the weapon confiscated from him shortly after the Bausley murder. Griffin’s conviction, the Supreme Court said, was no longer “worthy of confidence.”
In December 2012, Griffin was released on bond pending a retrial. On October 25, 2013, the prosecution dismissed the charges.
– Maurice Possley