Thursday, June 19, 2008
Dockweiler’s Client Recounts Husband Shooting Her
By ROGER M. GRACE
It was on Sept. 3, 1903, at a hotel in Santa Monica, that Griffith J. Griffith, land investor, shot his wife, Mary Agnes Christina Griffith, the bullet shattering the bone next to the outer edge of her right eye, a fragment of the bullet careening into the eye. She scuffled with her husband and managed to get to the window and open it, jumping to the roof of a porch, fracturing her shoulder. That roof was at the level of the second floor of the tiered structure, and she made it to an open window, tumbling into the room, and collapsing there.
At the hospital, her eye was surgically removed. Whether she would survive was in doubt for days. She sent for a priest to perform the last rites.
On Saturday, Sept. 5, at about 4 p.m., the victim—who usually went by her middle name “Christina”—was able to make a statement to Chief Deputy District Attorney W.P. James. On the strength of her statement, a complaint, sworn to by a police detective, was filed at about 5:30 p.m. in the Police Court, and a warrant was issued for Griffith’s arrest, with bail set at $15,000.
According to an account in the Los Angeles Times the next morning, Griffith’s lawyer, former federal judge Charles Silent, telephoned the Police Court judge to ask that the warrant be held until Monday to give his client the opportunity to raise bail and avoid arrest, but was rebuffed in light of the severity of the charge. (Silent, as recounted here some months back, is the person who persuaded Griffith to donate the land to the city which became “Griffith Park.”) Griffith was arrested and jailed.
The victim’s lawyer, Isidore B. Dockweiler—who would serve as special prosecutor in the case—was quoted in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 7 as saying:
“We are not persecuting Col. Griffith, we simply feel that he should be incarcerated, and if the jury delivers a verdict of insanity we will be pleased that he may have the comforts of a private asylum, but if it delivers a verdict of attempt to murder, we believe that he should go to jail. And lastly, if the defense endeavors to prove that ‘Tiny’ [Christina Griffith] attempted to commit suicide, in the event of her death within the next week I hope that he will hang.”
Silent would not reveal what the nature of the defense would be.
In her statement, the victim says:
On Thursday afternoon Mr. Griffith came down to the beach as he was in the habit of doing about 3 or 4 o’clock; he usually came down at that time and we went out driving for the purpose of exercising the horses. As we were to return to the city [of Los Angeles] on Friday morning Mr. Griffith said that he would not take the horses out that evening and we went for a walk. We walked to the plunge and sat for a while and then went out. At a curio store we stopped and bought some souvenir postal cards and Mr. Griffin remarked that he would mail one to an uncle. After coming out of the bathhouse I said it’s warm. let’s get into the air—Mr. Griffith that I had better go up and commence packing, and he would go over and call on [former Congressman] Wiley Wells. I went on to our room at the hotel and began to pack. After a while Mr. Griffith came in and said he would help me….
Up to this time on that day nothing of an unkind or quarrelsome character had passed between us. Mr. Griffith had been pleasant in all his actions toward me on that day.
So far, it was a pleasant day, the events presaging no calamity. A former Los Angeles County sheriff, who was present when Griffith visited Wells, would later testify that Griffith did not appear out of the ordinary. The statement continues:
As we were packing [her husband] picked up my prayer book and came to where I was; I noticed that he looked peculiarly as he asked me the question: ‘Would you swear on this prayer book the same as you would on a Bible?’ I looked at him and answered, ‘Why certainly.’ He then said, ‘Get down on your knees and answer these questions.’ He told me to close my eyes. I then noticed the revolver which he was holding in his right hand and behind him. I said, ‘Griffith put down that revolver; why do you hold it?’ He said, ‘You don’t think I would hurt you with it, do you?’ I again asked him to put it down, but he did not do so. He told me to close my eyes, but I was frightened and only partially closed them. He told me to answer his questions. He asked: ‘Did you ever hear or know anything about Briswalter being poisoned? I said, ‘Why, no; I know that he had a sore foot and blood poisoning from that and nothing else.’ He then asked: ‘Have you been implicated with or do you know of anyone giving me poison?’ I replied, ‘Well, certainly not; you surely know I have not.’ His third question was: ‘Have you always been faithful to me in your marriage vows?’ I said, ‘As God is my Judge I have, and you know that I have.’ As I answered the last question, he shot me.”
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