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State high court upholds Griffin verdict, life sentence

The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that the 2010 murder conviction of an Effingham County man will stand.

The state’s justices ruled unanimously that Lester Casey Griffin’s conviction and life sentence for the 2009 death of 2-year-old Dylan Helmey should stand. Griffin is serving a life sentence, without parole, plus 20 years at Valdosta State Prison.

In his appeal, Griffin’s attorney Robert Persse contended the jury’s November 2010 convictions and sentences for felony murder and involuntary manslaughter were mutually exclusive. Griffin was found guilty on three counts of felony murder, based on cruelty to a child, aggravated assault and aggravated battery.

On June 28, 2009, Griffin was babysitting for his girlfriend, watching Helmey and his younger half-brother Jaiden. A Springfield Police officer responded to call around 1:30 p.m. about a child not breathing. By the time the officer arrived, the child had died.

An autopsy the next day revealed Helmey had sustained more than 100 injuries within two hours of his death, the most significant a laceration of the toddler’s right atrium. The laceration had been caused by extreme force.

Griffin admitted he had gotten angry at the child and hit him in the chest and later admitted it was not the first time he had struck the child.

Griffin and his attorney appealed on the grounds the verdicts were inconsistent because the jury considered the blow to Helmey’s chest a misdemeanor for the purposes of the involuntary manslaughter verdict and a felony offense for the murder verdicts. As such, Griffin countered all his convictions must be reversed and he should be granted a new trial.

The jury did not convict Griffin on a malice murder charge but instead turned it into an involuntary manslaughter charge.

Justice Harold Melton, in writing the court’s opinion, said a person commits “involuntary manslaughter when he causes the death of another human being without any intention to do so by the commission of an unlawful act other than a felony.” The jury only had to find that Griffin intentionally caused Helmey physical pain and harm.

“Accordingly, Griffin’s verdicts were not mutually exclusive, and his convictions must stand,” Justice Melton wrote.