A former Marine from Murrieta beat and strangled an ex-girlfriend because she had left him and was seeing someone else, a prosecutor said today, but a defense attorney said her client did not commit the murder.
Wade Griffin III, 41, is accused of killing 34-year-old Ever Council on March 19, 2007.
In addition to a first-degree murder charge, Griffin faces two special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and committing murder during an attempted rape.
In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Brandon Gene Smith told jurors the defendant was waiting outside Council’s apartment in the 33000 block of Mapleton Avenue when she opened her door to leave for work.
“He knew Ever would never see him coming,” the prosecutor said.
Council and Griffin had broken up the month before and she had started seeing another man, an active-duty Marine from Camp Pendleton, he said.
“Ever moved on with her life and the defendant just could not let her go,” Smith said.
The prosecutor said that a witness would testify that Griffin called him early on the day of the murder and said he was angry with Council and was going to her home to demand an apology and could not wait to see her face.
Smith alleged the defendant caught the victim by surprise, pushed into her residence and stripped, beat and strangled her before ingesting the contents of one bottle each of Soma and Vicodin and passing out, naked, on her body.
Photos displayed to the jury showed a gruesome scene of a bloodied and beaten woman lying naked on her apartment floor, only one sleeve of her suit jacket still on her arm.
Police said they found Griffin lying unconscious atop the dead woman.
Defense attorney Colleen Ann Lawler told the jury that Council was dead when her client arrived at the apartment and that he took his shirt off to try to clean the blood.
“He was devastated. He was extremely upset,” and because of that, he went into the bathroom and took the pills, Lawler said.
“Wade Griffin walked into a horrific scene,” the attorney said. “She was lying lifeless, bloody and not breathing.”
Griffin was trying to get dressed when he fell unconscious, on top of Council, Lawler said.
The defense attorney conceded that Griffin did not call police, but said he was afraid he would get blamed.
Lawler said Council’s boyfriend did not call police either. Authorities have said the victim was talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone and heard her scream.
The attorney said Council was dating several men and police never checked their alibis, instead centering their efforts on Griffin and overlooking important evidence.
There were no signs that Council had been sexually assaulted, and Griffin’s DNA was not found in the victim, she said.
According to Smith, Council was talking to her new boyfriend on the telephone about 9:30 a.m. when he heard her “let out an ear-piercing scream,” then shout “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!” before the call was disconnected.
The boyfriend drove to her apartment, couldn’t get an answer at her door, then drove to the bank where she worked. When he didn’t see her there, he went back to her apartment and got the manager and a maintenance supervisor to open the door, the prosecutor said.
Maintenance supervisor Ricardo Zepeda testified today that he was in the office when a man in military fatigues asked the manager of the complex to check on a woman in one of the apartments.
The three went to the unit and the staff knocked and rang the bell twice before unlocking the door and deadbolt, Zepeda said.
The manager and Zepeda peeked in, he said, then went a little further in, with each person heading in a different direction.
Zepeda spotted the bodies, he said. They immediately exited the apartment and called police, he testified.
The District Attorney’s Office opted not to seek the death penalty against Griffin, who faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of murder and the special circumstance allegations.