A Vancouver man who served 8 1/2 years in prison before his case was sent back for retrial was released from custody Thursday after pleading guilty to less severe charges.
Lester Juan Griffin Jr. was originally serving a 24-year prison term for first-degree burglary and first-degree assault in a 2008 shooting. However, the Washington Court of Appeals in September found that his rights to a fair trial were potentially violated and vacated his convictions.
His case returned to Clark County Superior Court, where he pleaded guilty Thursday to residential burglary and third-degree assault, as part of a plea agreement, and was granted credit for time served.
“I deserve to be home right now,” Griffin, 34, said during the hearing. “The time I did was more than enough.”
When entering his pleas, Griffin attempted to avoid admitting guilt by saying “no contest.”
“So guilty?” Judge Gregory Gonzales questioned. “Yes,” Griffin replied.
His attorney Susan Stauffer clarified that Griffin was entering a Newton plea, which allows a defendant to acknowledge that a jury could find him guilty of those crimes but not admit to guilt.
According to court records, two assailants wearing bandannas over their faces forced their way inside an apartment in Vancouver’s Kevanna Park neighborhood on May 17, 2008. When they encountered the tenant, Gary Atkinson, they fired two shots as he ran away from them. Atkinson was struck once in the back and was treated at a local hospital.
Investigators found that Griffin and Christopher Perkins were the assailants, and a third co-defendant, Gary Alexander, was supposed to be the getaway driver. Atkinson initially identified Alexander as one of the assailants at his door, court records show.
When Griffin appealed his case, the higher court found that the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office failed to provide evidence to the defense that could have been used to potentially discredit a testifying police officer, also known in the courts as a Brady violation.
The court also found that Griffin’s defense attorney, Bob Vukanovich, provided ineffective counsel when he failed to object to one of Griffin’s co-defendants testifying against him as part of a plea deal.
During his hearing, Griffin thanked the Innocence Project Northwest for handling his post-appeal petition and said that the legal system is designed to keep African-Americans, like him, in bondage.
His mother, Rosetta Warfield, said after the hearing that her son has lost a lot and he will never get it back.
“I can only imagine what he felt like and what he had to say to get home,” she said.