Ed Griffith and Duane White shared a cell at the Pinellas County jail in 2003. Griffith was charged with strangling his wife.
One day, after playing a board game, Griffith opened up about his case, White told a jury Thursday. The conversation led White to think that Griffith was the killer.
"You can't really say you become best friends in a situation like that," White said. "But you become acquainted and a lot of people talk about their cases."
Here's the twist: Griffith isn't on trial. Prosecutors don't think he did it. They believe that another man, Leo Richard Berube, committed the crime.
White emerged as a defense witness just last week, despite this being Berube's third trial for Ann Griffith's death after an appeals court reversed his two previous convictions. The timing of White's revelations triggered sharp questions from the prosecutors about the quality of his testimony.
Assistant state attorney Frank Piazza questioned why White did not come forward earlier if he had the information 13 years ago.
"You didn't because you didn't have it," Piazza said.
The case dates to the first days of January 2003. The Griffiths were on a crack cocaine binge inside Room 114 at the La Mark Charles Motel in Pinellas Park. Ann Griffith, 42, prostituted herself for drug money, records showed.
While Ann Griffith was in the room with clients, her husband remained in the bathroom in case she needed protection. Just after 3 a.m. on Jan. 4, she brought in a man. Minutes later, her husband emerged from the bathroom and found his wife had been strangled, prosecutors said.
But White, who has 18 prior felony convictions, told the jury a different story. He said Griffith told him his wife went out that night to find a client. Griffith stayed in the bathroom.
"And while he was in there, he got really upset," said White, 41. "I guess he couldn't handle that fact of what she was doing."
Mr. Griffith opened the bathroom door and confronted the client. When the man left, Griffith argued with his wife. That's when White said Griffith pushed her down, tied her up with a cord, did some more crack, and came back to check on her. She wasn't breathing, White said.
After about a year, Griffith was released from the jail when investigators determined blood found at the scene matched that of Berube, a factory worker registered as a sexual predator.
White said he met Berube in 2004 when he was booked into the jail and told him Griffith's story. But it wasn't until this year, when the men bumped into each other again at the Pinellas jail, that Berube told White his lawyers would be calling.
Piazza scrutinized White's account, pointing out that Griffith allegedly told him this story shortly after the murder 13 years ago.
Piazza also said Griffith stowed his records related to his case under his bed in the jail cell, which would have made it easier for White to get some of the details about his case. White, who is back in jail facing burglary and loitering charges, denied reading the paperwork.
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When White said he testified Thursday to feel satisfaction for telling the truth, Piazza said: "Thirteen years later, you're getting satisfaction? That's the only reason your doing it?"
Piazza also asked, "You're trying to help somebody out, aren't you?"
White said no.
White's testimony is just the latest development in a case that has shuffled through the court system for years.
In 2009, an appeals court overturned Berube's first-degree murder conviction because the judge allowed the testimony of two witnesses who accused Berube of rape. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison for one of those cases.
But Berube was found guilty again in 2009, this time of second-degree murder. Earlier this year, his conviction was reversed again due to a jury instruction error.
If convicted of second-degree murder this week, he faces life in prison.
The trial resumes today.
Contact Laura C. Morel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @lauracmorel.