10 Innocent People Who Were Executed, Part Two

Larry Griffin, Executed in 1995

Larry Griffin

On June 26, 1980 in St. Louis, Missouri, 19-year-old Quintin Moss was killed in a drive-by shooting while allegedly dealing drugs on a street corner in a run-down, all-black neighborhood of St Louis.The shooters killed Moss in a drive by execution.

Just down the street, Wallace Conners was struck by a bullet in the buttocks. [1] A runaway bullet, not uncommon in these types of attacks.

Police quickly found the car and the weapons used in the shooting. A police officer recalled seeing three black men coming out of a nearby drug house, one of whom was wearing a distinctive baseball cap similar to one found in the murder car. Another witness claimed to have seen the whole incident. [1]

Six months earlier, Moss had been charged with the murder of Griffin’s brother Dennis, but had been released for lack of evidence. Police then arrested Larry Griffin for Moss’s murder four days later. [1]

At the trial, the police officer identified Griffin from a photograph and the eyewitness described the shooting.

This sequence of police testimony and conviction is symptomatic of wrongful convictions. The public benefit that police are lauded with, blindly believing the testimony of officers on the stand, is a core problem with our legal system. Innocent people are routinely convicted in open court, because the public see a police officer take the stand, in uniform, swearing an oath and then the jury believes whatever the officer says. Officers have been found to commonly lie on the stand, and yet there is no punishment for this perjury.


This is the second installment of the Innocent Execution series from Historydojo. Start the series from the beginning here.


The testimony from police and the poor performance of the defense attorney created a situation from which Larry Griffin could never escape.

Griffin was convicted and sentenced to death. Over the next 15 years, he protested his innocence and appealed his sentence. Only after his execution did the story start to unravel.

The eyewitness (who said he had actually taken Moss’s pulse at the scene) turned out to be Robert Fitzgerald, a Bostonian and professional criminal whose testimony against organised crime figures in Boston had become so unbelievable that the government had stopped calling him. The only person who claimed to have seen Fitzgerald in the Stroll that day, before the shooting, was a second police officer, who later renounced his testimony.

What is hard to believe is that the prosecution would rely so heavily on the word of  Robert Fitzgerald, someone that was widely considered so unreliable. Perhaps there were pressures upon the prosecutors to secure a conviction, an influence that is often antithetical to the interests of justice.

As for the second officer, it is interesting that he would testify that he saw Griffin, but later recount. What initially moved him to testify beyond any doubt that Griffin was the shooter, and then change his testimony might only be understood as peer pressure. Police back each other up, even if it means an innocent man goes to the chair.

Wallace Conners, the second victim and a friend of Griffin’s, was briefly questioned by the police in hospital but was never called to give evidence at the trial. He fled St Louis for his life. On his return, he was adamant that Griffin was not in the car and did not shoot anyone that day.

The only witness to the shooting had to flee. It is not clear if Conners was afraid that the real killers might do him in, or if he feared that the police might come for him. It is not uncommon for corrupt police to silence any uncooperative informants or eyewitnesses that might reveal their corruption, as has been determined by the code of silence seen in the O.J. case, as well as in the case of Laquan Macdonald in Chicago, where an entire department said nothing about a police execution, even though it was obvious that the killing was a murder by police.

The conviction of Larry Griffin was based largely on the testimony from Robert Fitzgerald, a white career criminal, who was at the scene at the time of the murder. He testified that he saw three black men in the car when shots were fired and that Griffin shot the victim through the window of the car with his right hand.

This was Griffin’s attorney’s first murder trial and he did not challenge the testimony even though Griffin was left-handed.

This obvious discrepancy is enough to create reasonable doubt. The use of a right hand to shoot a gun out of a moving car when Griffin was left handed is a large inconsistency that any defense attorney would hammer into the minds of the jury. Who could possibly use their weak hand to commit a murder under such circumstances. What logic could it follow?

Griffins defense attorney also failed to bring forth an alibi witness who was with Griffin at the time of the murder. With an alibi, the lack of a credible witness to place Griffin at the scene, and a right handed shooter combine to create plentiful reasonable doubt about whether Griffin might be the shooter.

In addition to the other ample evidence, Griffin’s fingerprints were not found on the car or the weapon – all evidence against him was circumstantial.

Furthermore, there is evidence that suggests Fitzgerald was promised a reduce d sentence in exchange for his testimony by the police and prosecutor in the case.

The prosecution also failed to address that there were two other witnesses who confirmed that Griffin did not commit the murder. Furthermore, these three other eyewitnesses were able to name the three men who did actually commit the shooting.

Nevertheless, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld Griffin’s conviction and death sentence.

Griffin was executed by lethal injection on June 21, 1995.

Griffin maintained his innocence right up to his execution.

In 2005, a professor University of Michigan Law School reopened the case. His investigation concluded that Griffin was innocent.

In each case it begs that we as citizens and subjects under the law address the wrongs of the legal system, if only for our own protection. If you think that this could never happen to you, then you are exactly like Larry Griffin, except that Larry Griffin breathes no more.


[1] https://www.economist.com/united-states/2005/07/21/humans-make-mistakes

Author: historydojo

I’m a National Board Certified Teacher with nearly twenty years of experience teaching high school history. I blog about teaching, history, current events, the law and social justice.

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