Two young neighbors in an Annapolis housing complex were arrested this weekend and charged with murder in the carjacking death of Straughan Lee Griffin, a 51-year-old entrepreneur killed last month in the city's historic district.
Terrence Tolbert, 19, and Leeander Jerome Blake, 17, friends who live in the 1300 block of Tyler Avenue, were arrested after an intensive investigation of the Sept. 19 killing. Griffin was shot in the head, robbed of his Jeep Cherokee and left for dead outside his century-old home in downtown Annapolis.
Local residents who saw the men in the area before the crime and other tipsters helped police find the suspects, said Capt. Stan Malm, head of criminal investigations for the Annapolis police.
Police said Tolbert, who was arrested Friday night, made incriminating statements during questioning and also implicated Blake in the crime. Blake, who was arrested early yesterday and is being charged as an adult, also made incriminating statements, police said. Each accused the other of shooting Griffin, according to police.
The two were ordered held pending a bail hearing tomorrow.
News of the arrests was greeted with relief by Griffin's neighbors on Cumberland Court, a red-brick cul-de-sac near the Maryland governor's mansion and the U.S. Naval Academy. The residents of the quiet avenue were shaken by the crime, the first of its kind in that part of town since 1968. Even with suspects arrested, neighbors spoke on condition of anonymity because they said they feared for their safety.
"We're all just thrilled," one woman said. "We're hoping that it'll stick."
Another woman said she was simply happy that police had continued to work on the case during the series of sniper shootings that grabbed the attention of investigators across the region. "That was our one wish -- that they would stick with it," the woman said. "We wanted to see them follow through."
Police said Griffin was approached by two men just after sunset on Sept. 19 as he was unloading groceries from his Jeep Cherokee in front of his home. He had just returned to Cumberland Court from work in Columbia, where he was partners with two friends in Performance A/V, a company that provides video screens for rock-and-roll concerts and other big outdoor events.
A neighbor told police that just after 7:30 p.m. she heard a gunshot and looked out of the window to see Griffin lying on the ground. He had been shot once in the head, police said.
The neighbor said she saw his Jeep suddenly lurch forward, drive over his body and then speed off. Griffin was deaf in his right ear, and friends speculated that his assailants -- eager to make off with his Jeep -- might have yelled at him to hand over the keys and become angry when he did not respond.
Police found the Jeep about 11 a.m. the following day, abandoned at an apartment complex in Glen Burnie, about 14 miles north of Annapolis.
Though Annapolis has a sufficient volume of crime, some of it violent, to belie the small-town image cast by its Colonial facade, a murder had not occurred in that part of the historic district since Nov. 10, 1968, authorities said.
Griffin, the second-oldest of four children, grew up in Portsmouth, Va., and graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in philosophy.
By the late 1980s, he and two co-workers had started Performance A/V in his friend Greg Gerner's basement in the District. As the business grew, its headquarters moved to Columbia.
After a divorce about 15 years ago, Griffin spent two years looking for the perfect house in Annapolis, finally finding what he wanted on Cumberland Court. Set on a red-brick avenue lined with hydrangeas, it is a three-story, taupe-stuccoed house built in 1900, with a bright red door, red shutters and a wine cellar.
Soon after he moved in, Griffin bought a 27-foot Hunter sailboat, which he named Box of Rain, after the Grateful Dead song.