Thursday, June 26, 2008
Dockweiler Relates Statements of Griffith’s Victim-Wife
By ROGER M. GRACE
It was surmised—correctly, as it turned out—that entrepreneur Griffith J. Griffith would seek to thwart the charge of assaulting his wife with the intent to kill her by claiming insanity, precipitated by drunkenness.
It was on Sept. 3, 1903, that the land-donor for whom Griffith Park is named shot with a pistol at the head of his wife, at close range, after she denied infidelity to him. As recounted in the last column, that resulted in the need for surgeons to remove one of her eyes, with her capacity to survive the ordeal initially being in doubt.
To trounce, in the public’s mind, the anticipated defense, victim Christina Griffith’s attorney, Isidore B. Dockweiler, declared that his client had sworn that her husband had been sober on the day he shot her. The Los Angeles Times’ Sept. 8, 1903, edition quotes the lawyer as saying;
“A…deposition was taken by me from Mrs. Griffith this afternoon at 4 o’clock. Three distinct statements were made, which are an application of what she has already said. Perhaps the most important was to the effect that her husband was sober on the night of the shooting, that he had not been drinking during the day and that his manner during the afternoon of Thursday in no way indicated that he had been drinking. ‘He was unusually kind to me when he asked me to go for a walk,’ said Mrs. Griffith, and she mentioned the name of a lady who was present when he extended the invitation.”
The article further quotes Dockweiler as saying:
“We believe that the evidence found within the room will preclude the claim of accident on the part of the defense, and although there seems to be some evidence tending that the defense will claim attempted suicide on the part of Mrs. Griffith, we do not think that such a defense would have a leg to stand upon.”
The room where the incident took place was in the Arcadia Hotel in Santa Monica.
Dockweiler disputed a portion of report appearing the night before in the Evening Express. That report says:
“Mrs. Griffith stated that she believed her husband was insane and she thought he should be locked up, but she was averse to a swearing of a felony complaint against him....”
The Times quotes Dockweiler as branding that as “false,” insisting that his client “said that she wished she could believe he was insane, but felt certain that he attempted to kill her with malice aforethought.”
Dockweiler’s statement continues:
“It has been said that if Col. Griffith could see his wife he would be able to obtain the withdrawal of the charge against him. That is all talk. I tell you that Mrs. Griffith is through with her husband for good, and is ready to go on the witness stand and swear that he attempted to murder her; if he ever did have a power over her it is gone forever.”
(The defendant was commonly referred to as “Colonel Griffith” though the military rank appears to be one merely assumed by him.)
One member of the public who was convinced that Griffith was insane—therefore incapable of performing duties of office—was Los Angeles Mayor Meredith P. Snyder. On Sept. 8, he wrote to the City Council:
“I have this day retired Griffith J. Griffith as a member of the Board of Park Commissioners and beg to request the confirmation of my action at your hands.”
By a unanimous vote, the council obliged.
“Public sentiment will heartily approve the action of Mayor Snyder,” an editorial in the Sept. 9 issue of the Express says.
The following day’s edition contains an editorial proposing that the 3,015-acre Griffith Park be returned to Griffith, explaining that the recreation area had become “handicapped so signally by its name.”
The editorial goes on to say that “this city cannot afford to own a park whose title exploits a name which just now is in deserved ill-odor.” As an alternative, it suggests the city council instituting a “rechristening of the place.”
The Times’ Sept. 11 edition condemns the “hasty action of the Mayor and Council,” and blasts its rival, the Express, commenting:
“It is a newspaper’s business to report the facts and circumstances as they come out; but to conduct a campaign of argument and vituperation in order to prejudge the case of the accused before his legal trial comes on, this is a presumption and an indecency which has been rebuked by the courts, and for which no apology can be made except mere littleness. The Evening Express has assumed an unjustifiable position in this matter, and is pursuing an unjustifiable course.”
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