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In new trial in slaying of Pinellas Park prostitute, defendant's crime sheet is barred this time

Leo Richard Berube, on trial for the second time in the murder of Ann Griffith, listens during opening statements Tuesday.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Leo Richard Berube, on trial for the second time in the murder of Ann Griffith, listens during opening statements Tuesday.

LARGO — A jury on Tuesday began hearing the depressing story of Ann Griffith, a 42-year-old crack addict who worked as a prostitute in the Pinellas Park motel room she shared with her husband and pimp, Ed.

The jury heard a prosecutor say Ann Griffith was killed in 2003 by a customer named Leo Richard Berube.

But here's what the jury will not hear, as Berube's murder trial continues today:

• A different jury in 2006 convicted Berube of murdering Griffith. However, an appeals court ruled he should get a new trial, because the judge had improperly allowed testimony from women who accused him of raping them.

• Berube was convicted of a 1994 rape and given a 12-year prison sentence.

• Berube was investigated in 1993 when a girlfriend accused him of tying her up and raping her, and he was investigated in 1994 in the case of a woman who was strangled. He was never charged in those cases.

Convicting Berube of murder could be more difficult in this trial than it was in the previous one, because prosecutors won't be allowed to enter the evidence of past allegations that suggest Berube has a habit of abusing and strangling women.

And, there is one complicating factor: Pinellas Park police originally arrested a different man, Griffith's husband. Defense attorney J. Jervis Wise told jurors that Ed Griffith is the real killer.

"The state's got the wrong guy," he said.

Both sides agree Ann and Ed Griffith lived together at the La Mark Charles Motel on U.S. 19 in a haze of crack smoke. Ed did not work. Ann prostituted herself, usually for $20 to $40, money the couple used for rent or cocaine.

"They were drug addicts," Assistant State Attorney James Hellickson said. "They were drug addicts in the extreme."

Under their arrangement, Ed Griffith waited in the bathroom while his wife was with a customer, so she would have some protection.

Prosecutors said Berube was a customer who arranged to pay $40 for sex, but actually strangled Ann Griffith with a lamp cord. Prosecutors say Ed Griffith did not realize she was being killed as he waited in the bathroom.

After denying involvement, Berube eventually admitted to police that he paid Ann Griffith for sex that night, and that he wrapped the lamp cord around her hands, Hellickson said. When Berube was confronted with the theory that he wrapped the cord around her neck, he "nodded in an affirmative fashion," Hellickson said. Then he was arrested.

Up until that point, Ed Griffith had been in jail for the crime. But authorities began re-evaluating the case when DNA lab tests showed Berube's blood was near where the body was found.

Defense attorneys said they would show that Ed Griffith is the real killer, and that he even admitted to the crime.

"When Mr. Berube left the hotel room, Mrs. Griffith was alive," Wise told the jury.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or ckrueger@sptimes.com.

In new trial in slaying of Pinellas Park prostitute, defendant's crime sheet is barred this time 07/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 12:26am]
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