A Fresno man will not stand trial on a felony charge of a trying to pay a hit man $200,000 to kill a lawyer because the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office has dropped the charge of solicitation for murder.
Judge Edward Sarkisian Jr. approved a motion submitted Thursday afternoon by the prosecution seeking to dismiss the charge.
The motion to dismiss was submitted one day after the key witness, Curtis McAfee, invoked his right against self-incrimination and declined to testify against defendant Antoian Griffin. After the judge appointed a lawyer for McAfee, McAfee testified.
Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright said dropping the charge was the right thing to do.
“After presenting evidence during the preliminary hearing and hearing from the witnesses that testified in court up to that point, the prosecutor handling the case came to the conclusion that the evidence did not support proceeding any further, so he complied with his ethical and moral obligations by dismissing the case,” Wright said.
Defense attorney Miles Harris said the charge should never have been filed because McAfee is “a mentally unstable individual with a history of making these kinds of claims.”
“It was really a weird case,” Harris said.
McAfee and Griffin know each other because McAfee, whom Harris described as “a self-proclaimed paralegal,” had helped Griffin with some legal paperwork involving a workers’ compensation case, Harris said.
Griffin was held in jail in lieu of $1 million bail but was due to be released Thursday after the court hearing.
McAfee told Sarkisian at the hearing Wednesday he was remaining silent because a Fresno police detective called him before Wednesday’s hearing and threatened to arrest him if he did not testify against Griffin.
McAfee told the judge he could not identify the detective because the man in the telephone call never identified himself.
It was a strange ending to a criminal case in which Griffin’s lawyer contended that Griffin never threatened a lawyer from the McCormick Barstow firm, nor does he have the money to hire a hit man. Griffin, 57, survives on a $910 monthly disability check, court records show.
In addition, Harris contended law enforcement was duped by McAfee, saying McAfee made up the story. McAfee lacks credibility, Harris said, because he has a criminal record that includes a conviction for making criminal threats.
Before his arrest Nov. 9 on a charge of solicitation of murder, Griffin had only a misdemeanor conviction in 1983 for carrying a concealed weapon in public, court documents say.
The target in the alleged murder plot works for McCormick, Barstow, Sheppard, Wayte & Carruth and specializes in personal injury, product liability, medical malpractice and other areas of civil litigation. He is identified in court papers and was identified during Wednesday’s hearing. The Bee is not identifying him because of concern for his family’s safety.
In testimony Wednesday, Fresno police officer Kyle Novak and Cpl. Jacob Dellone said Griffin targeted the lawyer because he had represented another lawyer who once represented Griffin in a workers’ compensation lawsuit. After Griffin lost the lawsuit, he sued both lawyers, court records show.
In June, Judge Mark Snauffer dismissed the suit against the two lawyers, ruling that Griffin had no evidence to support his claim of civil conspiracy.
According to Novak and Dellone, a tipster, later identified as McAfee, called McCormick Barstow two times on Sept. 27 to warn the law firm that Griffin had put “a contract out” on the lawyer and was offering $200,000 to kill him. The caller asked the lawyer not to call police because he feared Griffin would find out. The caller then hung up.
After the phone call, the lawyer contacted the Fresno Police Department. He told police that he knew Griffin from the prior court case. But the lawyer also told police that “Griffin didn’t have $200,000 to make that type of offer,” Novak testified.
In addition, Novak testified that the lawyer never mentioned any threat by Griffin.
According to Novak and Dellone, McAfee called McCormick Barstow again on Nov. 2. The caller again said the lawyer’s family was in danger before hanging up, the two officers testified.
After the lawyer notified police of the Nov. 2 call, detectives found McAfee through the telephone number he had used to call McCormick Barstow. Police have said that McAfee told detectives that he has known Griffin for about three years and that on Sept. 27, he went to Griffin’s home, where Griffin allegedly offered him $200,000 to kill the lawyer.
Griffin also allegedly showed McAfee several guns that he kept in his home and offered to give him one to use in the killing, police said.
But Harris said all of Griffin’s guns are legally registered to him.
Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts