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Teen with lengthy record sentenced to prison

No one disagreed Friday morning that Keenan Griffin, 15, deserved punishment for the lengthy record he has accumulated in his short life.

But that's where the agreement ended.

Griffin's defense attorneys, who had entered an open plea on his behalf, lobbied for placement in boot camp. Prosecutors said he belonged in prison, having been charged in this case as an adult for battery on both a detention facility staff member and another detainee.

Circuit Judge Ric A. Howard got the final say. His opinion was clear: He accepted the plea and sentenced Griffin to serve a seven-year sentence in adult prison, followed by three years probation.

"This is, in fact, your day of reckoning," Howard told Griffin.

Though Friday marked the first time Griffin has been sentenced as an adult, it was not his first time before a judge. Authorities said his criminal record began before he reached 10: aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, 10 convictions for battery on detention facility staff, an escape, two batteries and throwing deadly missiles.

His most recent charge stemmed from incidents at Cypress Creek Academy, a state detention center in Lecanto that houses serious juvenile offenders from throughout Florida. Assistant State Attorney Paul Norville said Griffin spit in a guard's face and punched another young man.

Griffin's tendency toward beating up detention officers and other kids made prison the only appropriate place for him, Norville argued.

"You can't put this person back out in society," he said. "There's only one place this person belongs."

Yet Griffin, his mother and his attorneys argued that the very programs and juvenile facilities he has been bounced around in since age 12 were causing his repeated bad behavior.

Standing next to her handcuffed son, Xanthea McKensie said Griffin had been acting violently ever since an uncle, who was something of a father figure, had been killed.

Griffin's father, she said, had been in prison most of the boy's life. Her son nearly drowned as a baby.

And, she argued, he had been in and out of psychiatric programs without ever being successfully treated for his problems.

"I don't feel that he got the proper care that he needed in these facilities," said McKensie, a nurse. "My child has never even had a chance to live his life. Keenan has to grow up, and he's not going to grow up being around prisoners for five years."

Griffin complained to Howard that the juvenile detention facilities allowed no room for mistakes.

"Every time I act out, they press charges against me," he said.

What the young man needed, said Assistant Public Defender Rick Schultz, was one more chance. His problems had resulted from immaturity, and he needed a strict environment to teach him respect for others, Schultz said.

Howard didn't buy it. He said Griffin's repetitive, lengthy record was among the worst he had seen in his 26 years in the legal field, a fact he demonstrated by rifling through the teen's five-page arrest history.

At some point, Howard said, Griffin was treated with medications for Oppositional Defiant Disorder, a behavioral disorder that results in a child being uncooperative, defiant and hostile toward authority figures.

But the pre-sentence investigation report prepared for the case gave no evidence that Griffin's problems were anything more than his refusal to change his attitude, the judge said.

"I don't think you suffer from (a) mental disorder," Howard said. "The juvenile justice system has not failed you. Every program has been sent to you and you won't listen. You won't change."

Howard said he hoped this sentence would be the impetus for Griffin to seek a better life as an adult.

_ Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 860-7303 or cjenkinssptimes.com.

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