LAWRENCEVILLE -- A Gwinnett County jury found Stone Mountain resident Tommy Griffin guilty of felony murder and a judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole Friday, despite the fact that the bullet that killed another man during a bloody drug battle was never linked directly to him.
Jurors began deliberating late Thursday and continued to do so into Friday evening, weighing the facts in a largely circumstantial case involving an April 2010 shootout at a Norcross stash house.
Some 35 shots were fired at the apartment that Griffin admitted to visiting to buy drugs that day, one fatally striking victim Pedro Ortiz-Gonzalezz in the face. Griffin himself was shot in the stomach, and spent two months in the hospital before officially being arrested.
Eight shots entered a neighboring apartment, narrowly missing one man as he sat on the couch.
Neither the fatal gunshot nor any others have been forensically tied to Griffin, though the fact he was in the apartment to buy drugs -- Griffin admitted in taped interviews to being at the home with $4,000 to purchase marijuana -- is enough to convict him under Georgia's broad "party to a crime" law.
At one point Friday, jurors asked to "review some recorded interviews again" before returning with their guilty verdict around 7 p.m, prosecutor Robby King said.
Despite the defense's previous arguments that the jury was "not here as a referendum on drugs," Griffin was found guilty of both murder and conspiracy to traffic in cocaine.
"Due to his numerous prior convictions, (Griffin) was sentenced as a recidivist to life without the possibility of parole," King said.
Under Georgia law, "Any party to a crime who did not directly commit the crime may be indicted, tried, convicted and punished for commission of the crime upon proof that the crime was committed and that he was a party thereto."
Fredrico Espinal, an alleged co-conspirator with the victim who was shot in the foot during last year's melee, has been arrested along with another suspect. Prosecutors believe all others have likely fled the country.