It took three days of testimony and jurors about five hours to convict the first of two men charged with murdering Coastal Carolina University student Corey Brooks after a fight over a parking spot.
Keion Griffin, 19, is guilty of murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, the jury found Wednesday after being deadlocked on a first attempt for a verdict. 15th Judicial Circuit Judge Larry Hyman sentenced Griffin to life in prison for murder and an additional five years for the gun charge.
Before sentencing, Griffin addressed the court room, but he never apologized and only spoke of his one wish.
"I wish that Corey Brooks was here right now so his family members could have him with them. And so he could tell everyone who the shooter really was. That's what I wish for. That's all I have to say, sir," Griffin told the judge.
Hyman showed no remorse and told Griffin "to shoot someone lying face down in the back" is a "cold-blooded, thoughtless, unimaginable and heinous crime."
"Somewhere at some time things went wrong in your life," Hyman continued.
Hyman continued by saying Griffin had no remorse for life, and if let out of prison, Griffin would kill again, Hyman said.
"Somewhere along the line, human life has been cheapened in your view. You have no respect whatsoever for human life," Hyman said.
Hyman told the convicted murderer that it was his duty to protect the community and nation from Griffin.
Before Hyman imposed the sentence and before he heard from Griffin, prosecutor Donna Elder spoke of Griffin's criminal past including a 2007 robbery conviction; an assault and battery with intent to kill charge from January 2008; and an additional assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature charge from February 2008. A judge released Griffin on bond for the February charge just ten days before he killed Corey Brooks, Elder said.
Elder also informed the judge of what she called significant gang activity that Griffin participates in -- even from inside the jail. Elder told the court Griffin had numerous disciplinary infractions during his incarceration since Brooks' murder. The latest incident, Elder said, was an escape attempt by Griffin just last week.
Griffin's attorney said he didn't try to escape and told the court Griffin had put paper under his sheets to make it look like he was still in bed when he used the bathroom last week. James Galmore said Griffin was playing a joke on his cell mate.
As Griffin walked out of court and toward a life in prison, the family of Corey Brooks sobbed. Brooks' mother said the proceedings were surreal and that very few people could imagine what it's like to lose a son.
BACKGROUND AND TRIAL
Brooks died May 25, 2008 from a single gunshot wound to the back that caused damage to his heart, lung and aorta, the pathologist who performed Brooks' autopsy testified Wednesday.
During testimony this week, Horry County Assistant Solicitor Donna Elder presented two of Griffin's co-defendants who testified they watched Griffin shoot Brooks.
According to the prosecution, Brooks and several friends were staying at a home on 3rd Avenue North for Memorial Day weekend 2008. In the early morning hours of May 25, three girls pulled up and tried to park in the yard. One or more of Brooks' friends told the girls they could not park there, and that's when Griffin, Demario Stukes, 19, and a 16-year-old juvenile walked up, Elder said.
A scuffle broke out, as it was described by some in court, and Elder said Brooks tried to break it up. Several witnesses said they then heard someone yell "I'm strapped, I'm strapped," which is slang for having a gun. The juvenile and Stukes both said Griffin was the one who yelled, then struck Brooks on the head with the gun and kicked him several times when he was on the ground.
With that, the prosecution's witnesses claimed, Griffin fired a fatal shot at Brooks.
"A vacant parking space is where it began," Elder said Wednesday, and "a vacant parking space is what ended his life."
Griffin's defense attorney James Galmore tried to discredit the witnesses and told the jury the young men had motive to lie to save themselves. The juvenile pleaded guilty to being a minor in possession of a pistol despite being the one who brought the gun from his mother's home.
However, prosecutors said the juvenile told police about Griffin being the shooter days before the plea deal was reached. He received the deal in exchange for confessing about the gun's whereabouts.
Defense attorney James Galmore said Stukes lied from the beginning by telling police he had no knowledge of the shooting. Only later did he tell police of his being present at the scene, Galmore said. Plus, Galmore argued, the prosecution had no additional evidence linking Griffin to the shooting.
A forensic specialist with SLED testified Wednesday her findings are inconclusive on whether the bullet pulled from Brooks' body was fired from the alleged revolver.
Elder said during her closing arguments that while she didn't have DNA, fingerprints or conclusive findings about the gun, the circumstantial evidence and testimony she did have met the burden of proof needed for a conviction.
In the final moments of her closing arguments, Elder expressed disgust at the disregard for life she said Griffin showed that night. "He wanted to show who was in charge," Elder said and added Brooks died because of Griffin's "ego."
Elder said Stukes' murder charge and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime charge are still pending.