1. Archive

Uncle pleads guilty to killing his two nieces

Marjorie Griffith came to a grim courtroom Monday as the grandmother of two girls, both inexplicably murdered as they played in their bedroom in 1994.

She also came because of the man who calmly admitted to shooting them, a man with a history of mental problems _ her own son, Burgess Simon Griffith Jr.

"Since Aug. 1, 1994, there has never been a good day. I loved them so much," Mrs. Griffith said of her granddaughters. "But Jesus taught me, blessed is the peacemaker."

She said she did not want the state to seek the death penalty for her son, who told police he shot Tarshuma Kelly, 13, and Jasmine Kelly, 11, each in the head as they huddled together in terror on their bed in that night.

"Even in prison, God can live with him there," Mrs. Griffith said. "We love him."

Monday, the day the 23-year-old Tampa man was scheduled for trial, he pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in exchange for two consecutive life sentences. Prosecutors said that in agreeing to drop the death penalty they considered his record of mental instability, his age and the wishes of the victims' family _ who are also Griffith's family.

"He's a very disturbed young man," said his attorney, Assistant Public Defender John Skye.

Griffith, who went by the nickname Pattycake, said his mother kicked him out of her home when he was 18 and that his family did not trust him around his nieces because they thought he was "too sexually affectionate" with them. He denied that.

The girls, who lived with their grandmother at her west Tampa apartment, were afraid of Griffith and hid when he came around.

Griffith, who said he had been to a mental-health crisis center "a few times" when he was 13 or 14, said he planned to kill himself that day.

"I wanted to take my life, but see, I wanted them to go with me," he said.

He also admitted that "hatred" had built up in him because his mother wouldn't let him see his nieces.

Griffith planned the attack, hiding a borrowed .32-caliber revolver in a shopping bag when he went to his mother's apartment and asked to use the bathroom. He described in detail for detectives how he slipped into the the girls' bedroom, how they looked shocked to see him, how they hugged each other and begged him not to shoot them. He pulled the trigger several times.

"James, my brother, seen me, and he just said "Pattycake, what you doing?' " Griffith told detectives in a recorded confession. "And I just kept on trying and then I successfully, successfully finally luckily got a couple shots."

Griffith also said that the gun jammed and that he couldn't shoot himself before he was arrested. He was sent to the Florida State Mental Hospital before he was found competent to stand trial.

"I believe that my niece is in heaven, and I believe that God is mad at me," he said. "But if I could just ask him forgiveness and then kill myself, I would be maybe lucky."

Prosecutor Shirley Williams said, "While he certainly isn't insane, he does have some mental problems."

Griffith, who briefly worked for a hotel banquet service but existed mostly on disability checks, told investigators that he knew he had broken one of the Ten Commandments and that he deserved the ultimate penalty.

"Do you understand, Pattycake, the seriousness of everything that has been told to you?" Detective Rick Childers asked him in the 1994 interview.

"Yes, sir," Griffith answered. "And I will please like the electric chair."