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Man gets 40 years in shooting death

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By Johnathan Ryan

A Lancaster County jury found a 38-year-old Lancaster man guilty of murder after about 30 minutes of deliberations Wednesday.

The jury convicted Jerry McGriff of the December 2006 shooting death of Lamont Witherspoon, 32.

McGriff was also convicted of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime and unlawful carrying of a pistol after two and half days of testimony.

Judge Brooks Goldsmith denied 6th Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield's request for a life sentence, instead sentencing McGriff to 40 years for the murder charge, with credit for time served. His sentences for the other charges will run concurrently with the murder sentence.

Witherspoon was shot on Taylor Street on Dec. 16, 2006, after an altercation with McGriff.

The exchange started on the porch of Barbara Green's residence. Both men were reportedly romantically involved with her and were quarreling over her, according to testimony.

There was a crowd of people who witnessed the fight, but testimony was contradictory as to where the fight occurred and ended, who had guns, how many gunshots were heard and who fired them.

Some witnesses testified that McGriff had a gun. Other witnesses testified that Witherspoon's brother, Shawn Witherspoon, also had a gun.

Barbara Wade, McGriff's first cousin, said Shawn Witherspoon was the only person she saw shoot a gun that day.

But Barfield openly doubted her testimony, questioning how she could claim to have seen others at the scene, but only a few of her relatives, as she testified. Other witnesses placed her relatives at the scene.

"That just doesn't make sense," Barfield told the jury. "I submit to you that hardly anything she had to say was true."

Most witnesses who testified said Shawn Witherspoon wasn't standing close to his brother when gunfire was heard.

Some witnesses also testified that McGriff's nephew, Tommy, was on the scene with a gun. Some other witnesses said they didn't see Tommy McGriff with a gun, however.

The only physical evidence that Barfield admitted was a crawl space vent that police believe was struck by the single bullet that killed McGriff.

Defense attorney William Frick said there was more than one hole in the vent, and Capt. Scott Grant of the Lancaster Police Department testified there's reason to believe that another bullet had struck the vent before the shooting.

Frick pointed to the lack of physical evidence, including DNA or blood tests, in the case.

"There's no gun, no bullet, no shell casing and no GSR (gunsmoke residue) kit on anybody," he said.

Frick told the jury plenty of reasonable doubt existed.

But Barfield countered that it's reasonable for witnesses to have different recollections due to different vantage points. Witnesses aren't like a choir, which sings from the same sheet of music, he said.

"There's plenty of direct and circumstantial evidence where you can conclude Jerry McGriff did this," Barfield said.

He pointed to blood found in the front yard of 709 Taylor St., where it is believed Witherspoon was shot.

"Sure, we can't prove that was Witherspoon's blood in the yard, but use common sense. Who else's would it be?" Barfield told the jury.

Request for new trial

After the jury returned its verdict, Frick immediately asked for a new trial, arguing that he disagreed with Goldsmith's application of the "hand of one, hand of all" rule. Goldsmith denied the motion.

Frick said he sensed that the jury reached its decision mainly through the rule, which says if any of a finite number of people are involved and could have committed a crime, then any of them can be convicted.

Barfield argued that if Jerry McGriff did not shoot the gun, it must have been his nephew, Tommy.

"If you can conclude that Jerry did not do it, then you have to conclude that Tommy did it," Barfield told the jury. "The law says that under these circumstances, Jerry McGriff can still be convicted of murder."

He said there was no evidence that could be pointed to Shawn Witherspoon shooting his brother.

Sentencing

During the sentencing phase of the trial, Barfield argued for a life sentence.

"This is just another of those cases in our county where a young man is now dead because other young men had guns," he said.

But Frick argued that McGriff's criminal history wasn't particularly violent. He asked for leniency, urging Goldsmith not to make this a "message" sentence.

So did McGriff's half sister, Derell Perry.

"He's like the only brother I have. He has kids," she said.

But Harold Reid, father of Lamont Witherspoon, appealed to Goldsmith to punish McGriff to the fullest extent of the law.

"This has been a real tragedy for me," said Reid, who had traveled from Maryland for the trial.

Contact reporter Johnathan Ryan at jryan@thelancasternews.com or (803) 416-8416