A surprise guilty plea Friday came from the man accused of killing a Kmart security guard in Ramona after the man tried to shoplift $86 worth of items from the store in 2007.
Andrew Nicholas Griffith, who turned 30 years old on March 14, faces what a prosecutor called a “stipulated sentence” of 42-years-to-life in prison for the July 21, 2007, shooting of David Busby II, 32. Busby was a sailor who was moonlighting as a security guard for extra money for his family.
El Cajon Superior Court Judge Herbert Exarhos set sentencing for April 10. Griffith, former Ramona resident who had been living in Scripps Ranch, remains in the central jail in downtown San Diego without bail.
Because Griffith, and his attorney, Knut Johnson, agreed to the proposed sentence in exchange for the dismissal of special circumstance allegations, “he’s gonna do 42-years-to-life,” said Deputy District Attorney Gordon Davis.
Had he gone to trial and been convicted of first-degree murder, he would have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, said Davis. Griffith will likely have to serve at least 42 years, and will be 72 years old when a parole board may consider him eligible for parole. Griffith may get credit for spending the last two years in jail, but might not be granted parole until 2049.
Griffith pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, which carries a 15-years-to-life term, and will receive a consecutive 25-year term for personally using a gun in a homicide. Griffith also pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon to Finauga “Fred” Tili, a second security guard who fought with him after Busby tried to keep him from fleeing.
Griffith will get two years consecutively for pointing the gun at Tili. Tili testified he and Busby were struggling with Griffith on the ground and “he had the gun pointed to my face.” At the preliminary hearing, Tili said he saw Griffith’s finger on the trigger at the same time. Bystanders helped Tili get the gun out of Griffith’s hand.
Griffith also pleaded guilty to battery with serious injury to a homeless man in an unrelated incident in which the victim was slashed with a sword in a Ramona riverbed. That sentence will run concurrent, said Davis.
Steven Michael Lowe, 34, testified earlier that he saw Griffith slashing tree limbs with a sword at a homeless encampment. “Calm down, Samarurai warrior!” Lowe said he told Griffith, who then slashed his arm, and he learned it was not a joke.
Griffith withdrew his insanity plea before pleading guilty. His attorney told the judge that psychiatrists found Griffith did have a mental illness, but it did not rise to an insanity finding. Johnson could not be reached for comment afterward.
Davis said the reports from psychiatrists who examined Griffith did not write reports that were favorable for the defense, which probably was a factor that led to Griffith pleading guilty. Davis said he was unsure Griffith would actually plead guilty until it happened.
The judge dismissed the remaining charges, which included the special circumstance of murder during a robbery and burglary, attempted murder of the other security guard, felon in possession of ammunition, attempted escape from deputies at the Ramona station, robbery, and burglary. Griffith had a prior weapons conviction in 2005 in another county.
Griffith had attempted to steal 15 items that totaled $86.85 without paying for them at Kmart. They included a gun cleaner, sandpaper, DVDs, gun oil, waterproof matches, an emergency blanket, and a hula doll for his dashboard.
Witnessing the guilty plea was the widow of Busby and Griffith’s parents. People donated funds for Busby’s widow and small child after they heard of her husband’s death.
The last thing Busby saw was the kind face of a nurse, Debra Fraser, who rushed to the Main Street store after hearing shots fired.
“I took his head in my hands. I asked him to stay with me,” she testified, adding that he then died.