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Clark County man gets life in prison in 2016 Woodland murder

LONGVIEW — A Clark County man will spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of a Woodland man in 2016, a punishment the judge said was “richly deserved” Friday in Cowlitz County Superior Court.

“There’s no question in my mind of your guilt, Mr. Griffin,” Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning told Dustin Griffin. “Both by these offenses and your prior history, you have made it clear that you do not belong in society, and you should never be in society.”

Griffin, 40, remained adamant that he is innocent. He intends to appeal his Oct. 25 jury conviction.

“I did not kill Donald Howard,” Griffin told Warning just prior to his  sentencing. “The verdict was malignantly unjust, for sure. I’m quite certain I’ll get a new trial, and when I do, hopefully the jurors’ minds won’t be polluted with tailored testimony and false evidence. I’m sure at the end of that, I’ll be found not guilty. That’s what I expect.”

Griffin was convicted of burglarizing the home of Donald Howard, 63, striking Howard with a baseball bat when he interrupted the burglary and later returning to set his house on fire roughly around Nov. 20-22 three years ago.

“(Griffin) committed a cruel and barbaric crime,”  Cowlitz Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Eric Bentson said at sentencing. “He savagely beat (Howard) in the head with a baseball bat. The evidence showed he hit him in many different places from two different directions, while he was on the ground, defenseless. Then, he bound him with a rope and made certain that he would die as a result. … What’s especially disturbing here is that the defendant committed this barbaric crime in Mr. Howard’s home, in the place where he was supposed to be safe.”

Howard’s relatives said they were satisfied with the sentence. His sister, Leilani Harry, said she was thankful for the prosecutors, officers and others involved in working the case.

“We can’t thank them enough,” Harry said.

Bentson said he didn’t expect Griffin to show any remorse. Griffin’s defense attorney, Joshua Baldwin, said during sentencing that it would be impossible for Griffin to honestly express contrition because he simply did not commit the crime.

“There will be closure for the family as a result of this conviction,” Baldwin said during sentencing. “We believe that’s misplaced. They’re angry. They’re frustrated. They have every reason to be hurt. … (But) Mr. Griffin, despite the verdict, is not the person who did this.”

Bentson said after the sentencing that Griffin’s case took more work and time than any criminal matter he has ever prosecuted. And in court, he praised the work of the Cowlitz County sheriff’s investigators.

“We all heard the evidence,” Bentson said. “And thanks to the best work I’ve ever seen by detectives at the (sheriff’s office), there was a lot of it.”

An admitted accomplice to the burglary, Kristopher Hoyt, testified during Griffin’s trial. Hoyt pleaded guilty to reduced charges Wednesday in a deal with prosecutors for a 20-year prison sentence. He faced 55 to 67 years in prison if prosecutors pursued his original charges with sentence enhancements, according to his original plea agreement.

The defense put on no witnesses during Griffin’s trial. Court minutes indicate Griffin was ill the day he was scheduled to testify.

Griffin was convicted after about two hours of jury deliberation. He was found guilty of first-degree aggravated murder with a deadly weapon, which involves killing someone in conjunction with another felony, as well as robbery, burglary, arson and unlawful possession of a firearm, all in the first degree, and possession of a stolen vehicle.

Under state law, Griffin faced a minimum of 30 years in prison without parole. Bentson noted that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on the death penalty, and “ In doing so, they may have cut the defendant a pretty big break,” Bentson said.

He declined to say later whether prosecutors would otherwise have pursued the death penalty.


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