Did Stanley Griffin kill a College Station mother in front of her nine-year-old son? If so, did he commit capital murder? If so, should he die as a result?
These are the questions that could potentially come from Griffin's trial, which begins Monday morning at the Brazos County Courthouse in Bryan with opening arguments. A jury was selected last month.
Early on September 20, 2010, College Station police believe the now-47-year-old entered the Pedernales Drive home of Jennifer Hailey and strangled her to death in her bed, her son watching after walking in on the incident. Griffin later allegedly stabbed the boy three times in his neck in his bedroom with a garden tool. The child survived the attack, and is thought to be the lone witness to his mother's murder.
Griffin was arrested shortly after the crime. Through their investigation, authorities believe the suspect, a homeless man, had asked Hailey if he could live with her, but the 29-year-old had refused.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, but obviously must gain a conviction from a jury of 11 women and three men -- two of whom are alternates -- before they can argue for the ultimate punishment.
A murder charge can be elevated to a capital level by certain standards under the law, but the attack on Hailey's son does not elevate it. Had the boy died, it would have. Griffin was charged with injury to a child.
State law reads capital murder is the charge if "the person intentionally commits the murder in the course of committing or attempting to commit kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat."
The State of Texas will argue Hailey's son was, according to the legal definition, kidnapped by Griffin while inside the home.
If prosecutors can convince jurors Griffin was the murderer but cannot prove to them he kidnapped the boy, the jury would convict the defendant of a lower level of murder, one not punishable by death. For example, first degree murder's punishment is life in prison or between five and 99 years behind bars.
If the jury finds Griffin guilty of capital murder, there are only two punishment options: life in prison without possibility of parole or the death penalty. For the latter to be issued to a defendant, all jurors on the panel must believe he or she will be a danger to others in the future, and that there are no extenuating circumstances that would keep the state from executing him or her, such as mental handicaps.
Griffin would be a free man were the jury to find him not guilty after a trial that has been tentatively scheduled to last no more than two weeks. He has been in the Brazos County jail since his arrest the day of Hailey's death.
Since 1982 when the first Texas execution took place following a period where the practice was considered unconstitutional, 11 defendants convicted in Brazos County have been executed, eighth most of any county in the state.
Currently, there are four people convicted in Brazos County on death row, though Christian Olsen recently had his punishment (not his conviction) overturned by an appeals court. He is awaiting a decision from the district attorney's office as to whether they will seek a new punishment phase to argue for death again. If not, he will automatically receive life in prison without parole and leave death row, where he has been since March 2009.
John Thuesen (on death row since 2010), Marcus Druery (2003) and Carl Blue (1995) are the others from Brazos County awaiting lethal injection. Thuesen has an automatic appeal in progress. Druery is scheduled to die August 1. Blue has no execution date as of yet, but an appeal arguing he was mentally handicapped and ineligible for execution was denied in late 2011.