The first time Russel S. Griffin appeared in court to be sentenced for sexually abusing two preteen girls in Juneau, it didn’t go well.
The 50-year-old squirmed in his seat during that February hearing and attempted to withdraw his guilty plea to second-degree sexual abuse of a minor.
“I feel like I’m being pushed into this s—,” he said at the time, adding that he could prove he didn’t “do it.”
The move delayed the hearing but not the outcome. After ruling in July that Griffin could not withdraw his plea, Judge Trevor Stephens sentenced him on Monday to serve 25 years in prison.
“At this point, it’s difficult not to conclude that he’s a predatory pedophile, sexually attracted to young children,” Stephens said.
On Monday — take two of the sentencing hearing — it was more of the same. Outside earshot of the judge, Griffin fought with his new attorney, Marcelle McDannel, in open court.
“I can prove I didn’t do it,” he told her before the hearing in Juneau Superior Court started. He added that he was being “forced” into the situation by not being allowed to withdraw his plea.
McDannel reminded him that there was no such conclusive proof, and that the judge had already made his decision on the matter.
“(Today) is about them,” she said, pointing to the mother of one of the victims in the back of the courtroom. McDannel said Griffin could appeal Judge Stephens’ decision about the plea, or other matters in the case, at a later time.
Prosecutors said Griffin was convicted of child sex abuse in 2003 for abusing a neighbor’s 10-year-old daughter. He served four years in prison and five years of supervised probation for that crime, and received sex offender treatment.
Within months of his probation expiring in March 2010, he had victimized two new girls in Juneau, ages 9 and 10, prosecutors said. The new case came to light when the parents of the 9-year-old suspected she was assaulted during a sleepover at Griffin’s house on New Year’s Eve 2010. Police later obtained apologetic, incriminating statements from Griffin when police set up a recorded phone call between the girl’s father and Griffin.
Griffin vowed to the father, “it will never happen again,” charging documents showed.
Prosecutors then learned Griffin was sexually abusing another girl. The girl would have been 10 when the first of three assaults took place in July 2011, according to charging documents.
Griffin was arrested in August 2012 and has been in custody since. The case has seen extensive litigation — from defense motions to dismiss the indictment and suppress statements Griffin made to police, which were denied, to the more recent motions to withdraw the guilty plea — all of which dragged the case out for three years and three months.
On Monday, Assistant District Attorney Amy Paige said she was determined to make sure Griffin never harms another young person in Juneau. She requested he serve 50 years in prison with 20 years suspended, 30 years to serve.
“I think that he’s demonstrated himself to be nothing short of a sexual predator, particularly with respect to girls in this age range,” she said.
The impact on the two victims in this case has been tremendous, Paige said. Both girls require mental health counseling because they have engaged in self-harm. They also have behavioral issues, a common consequence of childhood sexual abuse.
“There’s no amount of jail time that your honor can give Mr. Griffin that’s ever going to make these impacts less felt by these victims; there’s nothing that we in the criminal justice system can do that can make this better for them,” Paige said. “… All that we can do at this point is ensure that Mr. Griffin creates no new victims.”
One of the girls’ mothers appeared in court and sobbed as she read aloud an entry from her daughter’s diary.
“Obviously, this is a mother’s worst nightmare,” she said, telling the judge that Griffin has destroyed her family.
Defense attorney McDannel requested 20 years to serve, saying Griffin will be 70 years old by that time and less of a threat to the community. She noted he has ailing health and is uncertain whether he will survive prison. She did not specify his health problems, but Griffin’s previous attorney said in court that Griffin is HIV-positive.
“I think the court should consider not only the principle that the courts shouldn’t sentence anyone for longer than is necessary … but the social utility of keeping someone in jail well into, with what the state is requesting, his early 80s, a time that he would no longer be a danger as a sexual predator,” she said. “By that time, he’ll certainly be probably old and frail and not much of a threat to anyone, and the state would be shouldering the burden of supporting him at a time when it will be very expensive to do so.”
Judge Stephens decided to impose 35 years in prison with 10 years suspended, which is 25 years to serve. Griffin will not be eligible for discretionary or mandatory parole and will have to serve the entire sentence.
The sentence includes 15 years of supervised probation and prohibits Griffin from contacting the victims, their families, or anyone under 18 years old. He will also have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.