Deliberations begin in Norcross murder trial

Tommy Griffin

Tommy Griffin

LAWRENCEVILLE -- None of the roughly 35 rounds traded in apartment 1806 during a bloody, crossfire drug clash last year have been linked to Stone Mountain resident Tommy Griffin, yet he stands the real possibility of being convicted of felony murder.

It might never be known whether Griffin fired a gun, invaded the stash house or, as his defense posits, was ambushed by an assault-rifle wielding Hispanic man who sprang from a closet, inadvertently and fatally shooting his friend in the face.

That Griffin was admittedly in the Norcross apartment the evening of April 8 last year to buy drugs is enough to convict him under Georgia's broad "party to a crime" law.

Deliberations began late Thursday afternoon for a jury tasked with weighing conflicting statements Griffin made to police against circumstantial evidence brought by prosecutors.

The gunbattle plugged neighboring apartments with bullets, narrowly missing one man whose couch absorbed eight rounds. Griffin was struck in the stomach and turned up at a hospital hours later. He told police he was accompanied by a friend named "Tru" and another man he didn't know. They haven't been located.

The victim, Pedro Ortiz-Gonzalezz, used the apartment as a "drug store," along with co-conspirators Fredrico Espinal, who was shot in the foot and arrested in nearby woods, and another suspect who was arrested. All others have likely fled the country, prosecutors believe.

"Somebody got away with the money and the drugs," Assistant District Attorney Robby King told jurors during closing statements.

Griffin admitted in taped interviews to being at the home with $4,000, ready to purchase marijuana. Prosecutors believe the drug at issue was thousands of dollars worth of cocaine; a felony murder conviction hinges on jurors finding he was there to buy that specific drug.

Griffin's defense attorney, Charlie Wrinkle, said the prosecution has relied too heavily on speculation.

"They can't prove that there was any cocaine Tommy knew about, they can't prove he was there to buy it," Wrinkle told jurors, sipping at a Dixie cup. "We're not here as a referendum on drugs."

The first officers on scene noted human flesh, skin and teeth in the living room. A $7,000 stash was found in an open heating vent in a back closet, suggesting the occupants left in a hurry.

King painted Griffin as a liar and villain, arguing that he'd switched his story for police, and that the Hispanic drug dealers would never call Griffin to their own house with the intention to ambush and rob him. The spray of assault-rifle bullets was an unplanned "reactive move" by the Hispanic men getting robbed by Griffin and company, King said.

That the accused and victim were dealing drugs underscores the danger they posed to honest residents living nearby, King told jurors.

Along with two counts of felony murder, Griffin is charged with conspiring to traffic cocaine and commit arm robbery and possessing weapons during the commission of a felony.

Fully recovered, Griffin was arrested two months after the shooting but wasn't charged with murder until a later indictment.

Deliberations are expected to continue today.