A 22-year-old Woodbridge man was sentenced to 20 years in prison this week in connection with the shooting death of his friend, an incident that jurors had ruled was a tragic accident.
James E. Griffin Jr., who faced a maximum of 28 years on charges of killing Shaquwn A. Thomas, 18, was convicted in May of felony murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and possession of a handgun by a convicted felon.
Prosecutors said Griffin shot Thomas once in the chest on Oct. 16 while he was dancing to rap music in the apartment they shared.
A medical examiner testified in May in Prince William County Circuit Court that Thomas was shot once in the upper chest and that the bullet ricocheted through his body, piercing both lungs and his aorta, causing him to bleed to death.
Though Griffin repeatedly apologized during the trial for the actions that led to the shooting of his "best friend," prosecutors maintained that Griffin intended to kill Thomas and then proceeded to cover up his crime.
Griffin testified that he ran out of the Woodbridge apartment to dispose of a .357 magnum revolver before calling police because he panicked, and an emotional 911 emergency tape revealed that Griffin lied to the operator about what had happened, blaming an unknown assailant whom he claimed to have seen running out of the apartment.
Much of the trial focused on the events after the shooting, because Griffin was the only witness, and he claimed that the gun essentially went off on its own.
After lying about the events to the 911 operator, to police and to Thomas's father, Griffin ultimately told Prince William County detectives that he shot Thomas inadvertently while the two were preparing for a night out.
The jurors took three hours to return a verdict, and they largely ignored an additional charge of murder, ruling that the shooting was accidental but that it happened while Griffin was committing another felony by simply holding a gun.