Program presented to the Ellis County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
Presented: June 30, 2006
[Give credit where credit is due]
This concept of using this psychodrama in the practice of criminal defense work is not something I came up with. I was introduced to this valuable tool while attending the Trial Lawyer’s College at the Ranch of Gerry Spence, the legendary attorney, in Wyoming. I just wanted to be sure that the proper credit was given.
By JOANN LIVINGSTON Waxahachie Daily Light Managing Editor
Posted: Saturday, February 28, 2009 10:44PM CST
Twenty-six-year-old Carlos Reyna of Ennis is looking to get his life back after an Ellis County jury rendered a not guilty verdict at his trial this week in 40th District Court.
The six-man, six-woman jury panel made its decision in less than an hour’s deliberation, defense attorney Mark Griffith said, speaking for his client after the proceedings ended.
Reyna, who had no previous encounters with the law, had been charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child under age 6. If he had been convicted, he would have faced a minimum sentence of 25 years and a maximum term of life in prison. There would have been no possibility of probation – a provision of child sex laws passed by the state Legislature during its last session.
Griffith said paperwork will be filed this week to have all paperwork and court documents expunged from Reyna’s record.
The allegation arose in January 2008 at a day care, where Reyna was employed at the time.
“Under cross-examination of the alleged victim, and you do that with kid gloves when you’re talking with children, there were probably 25 inconsistencies in his testimony,” Griffith said.
The allegation was that Reyna had taken the child to his home instead of straight to school on the day care van, Griffith said, noting however that another child – who had perfect attendance and also rode the van – testified the alleged victim was always dropped off at school prior to his getting off of the van at his own school.
“There was no testimony as to the child being late to school,” Griffith said, noting that the alleged victim also was unable to identify Reyna’s residence from photographs.
The child was age 5 at the time of the alleged incident at trial – but Griffith said testimony from others during court indicated concerns about the child’s behavior had been raised two years prior – and before Reyna became an employee at the day care center.
“There was testimony that at the age of 3 1/2, before my client even worked there, that the child knew way too much about body parts and sexual activity, stuff like that,” Griffith said.
“My closing argument to the jury was, ‘Let me tell you what a not guilty verdict really says. A not guilty verdict sends a message to this child’s father and mother to put him in counseling, something that should have been done several years ago,’ ” Griffith said, citing several unusual and inappropriate behaviors exhibited by the then 3 1/2-year-old.
“Each time, the parents were informed,” he said. “I feel sorry for the kid. I have kids of my own and if I had a kid at 3 doing (those behaviors), he’d be in counseling.”
Reyna’s employment at the day care center was terminated when the allegation arose, Griffith said, noting Reyna had been free on bond as he waited for trial and has since found other employment.
“Thankfully we had a wonderfully smart, courageous jury to render a true verdict,” Griffith said. “But this type of allegation is like cutting a feather pillow on a mountaintop. How do you ever get all those feathers back? It’s just a horrible, horrible thing to be accused of. I can’t think of a worse accusation and I include murder with that.”
Reyna has had strong support from his family throughout. He agreed Griffith could discuss his case publicly so that the community would know he had been cleared of the allegation by an Ellis County jury.
Although it couldn’t be introduced at trial, Griffith said he also wanted it known that Reyna had passed a polygraph conducted by the top polygrapher in the nation.
The polygrapher had told Griffith, “There is no shred of doubt when (Reyna) says it never happened.”
However, under the law, polygraph results are not admissible at trial, no matter the result, no matter which side has it done.
After the trial was over, Griffith said he was able to speak with several of the jurors. When he told one of them about the polygraph result, he said the juror responded, “I’m not surprised a bit.”
Griffith extended credit to his co-counsel and associate on the case, Monica Bishop.
“This is a 50/50 effort for sure. I didn’t win this case. We won this case,” he said.
Posted: February 12, 2009
WAXAHACHIE - It’s hard to imagine a scrappy criminal defense lawyer put on boxing gloves, arms and biceps bulging and within minutes, watching over as a stretcher pulls off his knocked-out opponent, but Mark Griffith is not an ordinary attorney.
Griffith, one of the most prominent - some would say expensive - defense lawyers in Ellis County, single-handily argued a case last year before Judge Gene Knize and a seated 12-person jury that resulted in a not-guilty verdict for his client in a record four minutes.
The boxing feat, done when Griffith was 32 in 1997, set a record for his age category.
Hobbies imitate real life for Griffith, whose downtown office stares directly at the historic county courthouse’s northside clock tower and whose staff handles client traffic as if Griffith dispensed prescription drugs instead of justice.
"Nobody wanted to coach me because of my age," said the father of two four-year-old twin boys and a one-year-old daughter who live with him and wife Michelle in Waxahachie.
Much like in the boxing ring, Griffith stands a little under six feet but carries a presence so powerful that Ellis County/District Attorney’s Office staff "now get the message," a reference to almost 50 motions for recusal Griffith filed last year in the 40th District Court, the bench Knize, whom the Dallas Observer cited as the "Bully on the Bench" in a five-page feature in April 2007, has manned for nearly 20 years.
The DA’s office accused Griffith of "harassment." Fellow lawyers said his legal career would be ruined after shaking up the Ellis County legal establishment.
"I filed them [recusal motions] because I felt the [visiting] judge was not allowing me to make the record I needed to protect my clients," said Griffith.
"I would file them again if the same situation occurred because I thought it was what I needed to do to protect my clients."
"I don’t file things to antagonize anybody, that is never the point, the point is that I must never miss doing something out of fear that my client needs done. If I every let fear keep me from doing what I know is right for my clients I will quit doing this, and I have no intention of that every happening."
As the "Griffith" in "Griffith and Associates" - former Ellis County prosecutor Monica Bishop, the taller, more attractive lawyer, rounds out a stellar cast that includes Venita Phillips, Ashley Neal and private investigator Bill VanSyckle - the defense lawyer who graduated from St. Mary’s University as Valedictorian in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies merges fighting for justice with his niche hobby lifestyle.
The best way to learn Spanish, he thought, was to spend a few months in Mexico.
"During my time at Saint Edwards I spent six months in Merida, Mexico so I could be immersed in the culture and truly learn the language," said Griffith, who grew up on a cattle farm in Ennis and was raised Catholic, a faith he still practices today.
"It was one of the best experiences of my life. I volunteered [at a] ‘seniors home’ where I help tend to the elderly. A truly humbling experience. The nuns that ran the home were living saints. The temperature was easily 100 degrees during most of the time I was there and they, the sisters, wore full habits and never did anything but care with true love and selflessness, it was so beautiful to watch human beings giving so fully of themselves and so happy to do it."
"I received college credit for the trip by taking an advanced oral examination in Spanish when I returned. It is amazing how easy it was to pick up the language when your only option is to speak their language or sit in silence."
To get rid of his fear of heights, Griffith - as evidenced in three massive photos in his downtown Waxahachie, hardwood floor-covered office near the Texas Theater - went skydiving.
A random adventure seeker, Griffith answered an ad to train with Navy SEALS, finishing with seven others in a class of 32 at White Rock Lake in Dallas one crisp morning at 4 a.m.
"...the workout only concluded after either everybody quit or everybody vomited," Griffith said. "I am proud to say I did not quit and I was the second to last to vomit, an Army Ranger was the last."
"Of the 32 people that signed up to complete the program only eight finished. The intensity of those workouts were amazing and the instructors did everything we did for the two and a half hours and when we were so worn out we could not move they ended the class to begin their workout."
"They were amazing and completing that course was another of the things I could mark off my list."
"I have ridden bulls," said Griffith, who received his law degree from Baylor University in 1992, sitting for - and passing - the Bar exam a year after. "Not a really bright thing to do but it was on my list."
"The activities I do now are continue to do intermittent boxing workouts, ride my road bike, and hunt," said Griffith, who’s east-side office wall would make a taxidermist jealous.
"I love hunting and both of my sons have already shown great interest in it. The joy in doing something like hunting with your son is hard to match. They obviously dont shoot at their age but just to be out doing it with your sons is amazing and I would guess that [daughter] Tatum will be a hunter too."
"Much of my time now is parenting when I am not at work; family is so important to me and I could not have asked for a better family, they are a joy. My wife should be given some sort of medal for the work she does, I admire her greatly."
His wife Michelle, a former Child Protective Services caseworker, helps raise Luke Joseph and Jake Allen, as well as Tatum Ann when not tending to grueling work schedules.
Griffith is now sought after for more family law cases, though his prominence catapulted in 16 years of trying murder and drinking while intoxicated cases.
"I am a trial attorney," he said. "I handle almost exclusively criminal defense cases and have since I started my practice 16 years ago. I never worked as a prosecutor, I have always represented the accused. I was told by many people, including professors at law school, that I would need to work for a firm or for a district attorney to get the proper experience to try cases. It was like telling me that ‘you can't do it like you want to.’"
"My father was right, can't never could. I did it my way and have successfully tried cases to ‘not guilty’ verdicts from murder to driving while intoxicated and almost any case in between. Something draws me to doing criminal defense. It is helping the underdog, the man or woman that is facing off against the government and all its resources. That gets my juices going because I know it will be a fight and for some reason, a fight really is where I belong."
"Criminal trials are wars and I consider myself the underdog fighting the mighty government as the voice for my client. It gives me great satisfaction. I have had clients who lost their case to the jury hug me and thank me because all they wanted was someone to truly fight for them.
"A trial attorney in the line of criminal defense is a fighter or the attorney should be doing something."
By JOANN LIVINGSTON Waxahachie Daily Light Managing Editor
Posted: Saturday, November 18, 2006 7:18 PM CST
A four-woman, two-man jury took about 30 minutes to find Garren Henderson, 26, not guilty of a misdemeanor charge of theft after 1-1/2 days of testimony in Ellis County Court at Law No. 2.
The trial had related to the alleged theft of Viagra from the Walgreens distribution center on Ovilla Road.
Describing the case before them as “corporate America and the government” vs. the “weakest of the weak,” Griffith said the trial was about Walgreens “trying to find a scapegoat” for unexplainedinventory loss.
“My first question to you during voir dire (jury selection) was, ‘Why don’t we just convict everybody?’ ” defense attorney Mark Griffith said during his closing argument. “That’s why,” he told jurors, pointing to Henderson, a young man who has an IQ of about 80, according to his family physician, and who still lives with his family because of his need for support. “That’s why.”
“What they found was the weakest of the weak,” Griffith said of his client, whose co-workers, family doctor and family testified earlier in the trial as being simply incapable of masterminding a large-scale offense as originally put forth by the company.
“That is evil and that is wrong,” Griffith said.
The case began as a felony case, with Walgreens officials reporting a missing inventory of about $58,000. As the case proceeded through the judicial system, however, the charge against Henderson - the only person ever filed on relating to the missing Viagra - had been reduced to theft over $500, with prosecutor Ricky Sipes saying in his closing argument they were “giving (Henderson) the benefit of the doubt.”
With the reduction in charge, the case was moved from 40th District Court to Ellis County Court at Law No. 2, Judge Gene Calvert Jr. presiding.
During the trial, a former supervisor and co-worker each testified on Henderson’s behalf, saying he was good at his position once he learned how to do it. Henderson’s mother testified her son had overcome many hurdles in his life but still lives at home because he is unable to live on his own. Dr. Richard Redington testified as to his opinion that Henderson could not have committed the offense.
Griffith reminded jurors that it was the defense - not the prosecution - who had brought information to them about the high level of security within Walgreens.
“That place is Fort Knox,” he said. “It’s a city in itself. And in this case, the dictator is Matt Linden (former loss prevention officer), who found the weakest of the weak to crush him and (the prosecutor) is asking you to finish the job. …
“Garren did his job, and look where he is now,” Griffith said. “That’s why we have juries. You are the safety net when the government and corporate America get together and say, ‘Let’s get him.’ ”
Griffith noted Henderson was not the only person on the line at the time of the alleged offense - with Griffith also questioning why, if a shift audit found 24 bottles at a value in excess of $7,000 missing, had the charge been reduced to theft over $500?
Griffith reminded jurors that under his questioning, Linden had said he could not identify what he was alleging Henderson had put in his pocket and that it could have been the company-issued box cutter/knife.
“I asked Matt Linden if he was positive that Garren was doing anything but his job?” and Matt Linden said, ‘No,’ ” Griffith told jurors.
On Thursday, Linden had testified as to how he had conducted his investigation.
Linden, who has since been promoted to Walgreen’s corporate offices in Illinois, said the company had noticed shortages in its inventory and had undertaken hidden surveillance in several areas, with his investigation determining the product was being taken in its “pick” line, where orders are filled. It was on the pick line that Henderson and others worked.
As surveillance tapes were screened for the jury panel, Linden described what he termed as “concerns” with Henderson’s actions, saying the former employee was reaching into a module and putting product into his pocket.
During the trial, under questioning by Griffith, Linden said he pulled Henderson from the pick line unannounced. Linden said Henderson voluntarily emptied his pockets out, with no product found. The only items in his pockets were a company-issued box cutter/knife and a pair of gloves, Linden said.
Henderson was one of three men questioned from the shift where the alleged theft occurred, according to Linden’s testimony. Henderson was on the pick line, which was fed its inventory by the other two men, who were working as stockers during the shift.
Linden said he gathered up all three men toward the end of their shift, testifying that one of the men refused to answer any questions and promptly left the premises. The other man gave brief, “yes-no” type responses to questions but refused to empty his pockets. Linden said there was no surveillance tape of those two former employees, but that both of their names were given to police. Neither has ever been charged with an offense.
Linden described the security procedures in place for the distribution center, including card-required entry/exit and access points. He noted during the testimony that the Viagra bottles are too small for security tags to be placed on them, however.
Employees and their lockers are subject to search at any time, for any reason and without notice, according to company policies. More than 100 cameras are located throughout the facility, with seven in the area Henderson used to work in. The camera used to videotape Henderson was an extra one installed by Linden prior to the start of the shift.
Although the area was searched, Linden testified that none of the 24 bottles the company believes was missing from the shift in question was ever recovered.
Based on the videotape, Linden said he could theorize Henderson took the bottles, possibly passing them off to the other two men or hiding them in his pants or socks.
“It could be possible he never had it?” Griffith asked Linden.
“Yes,” Linden said.
The missing bottles each contained 30 pills of 100-milligram strength. Retail price is about $10 per pill, with the street value from $20 to $30 each.
Viagra (sildenafil citrate) is produced by drug giant Pfizer, which reports on its Web site that more than 16 million men worldwide have been helped by the popular drug or “little blue pill” since its introduction in March 1998. The company estimates nine pills are dispensed per second and that the product works for up to four of five men.