Arkansas Court: Griffen Can’t Handle Capital Murder Case

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday said a judge who was barred from hearing execution-related cases after he participated in an anti-death penalty protest can’t preside over a capital murder case.

Justices granted a request by the state to prohibit Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen from presiding over a the trial of a man accused of killing two people in Sherwood in January 2020. 

Griffen was prohibited from handling execution-related cases in April 2017 after he was photographed participating in an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the governor’s mansion the same day he blocked Arkansas from using a lethal injection drug. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge argued that ban also applied to capital murder cases.

Justices did not elaborate on their decision in Thursday’s one-page order.

“As the Arkansas Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed, Judge Griffen’s inappropriate conduct demonstrates that he cannot be a fair and impartial judge when it comes to the death penalty,” Rutledge said in a statement. 

Griffen, who had been randomly assigned the case, rejected a request to have it assigned to another judge. An attorney for Griffen said the Thursday’s ruling came despite prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case stating in open court that they found the judge to be fair and impartial.

“Attorney General Rutledge‘s press release notwithstanding, nowhere in today’s ruling did the Court state that Judge Griffen’s conduct was inappropriate. This is political posturing,” Mike Laux, an attorney for Griffen, said in a statement.

During the 2017 demonstration, Griffen was photographed laying on a cot wearing an anti-death penalty button and surrounded by people holding placards opposing executions. A federal court in 2018 dismissed a lawsuit by Griffen claiming the disqualification violated his constitutional rights.

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