OLYMPIA – Decades later, the case haunts Roy Howson.
In March 1978, Spokane native Henry Grisby Jr. and friend Raymond Frazier were arrested in Seattle for gunning down five people in an apartment. Two of the dead were terrified children, hunted in their hiding places and killed with a single pistol shot to the head.
A young prosecutor, Howson tried for a death penalty conviction. Both men were sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Yet certain details of the case never quite fit. And Howson – reluctantly – eventually concluded that although Grisby was an accomplice, Frazier likely did the actual killing.
Now the former prosecutor is in a very unusual position: pleading for leniency for a man he tried to have executed.
“The truth is, I have a bad gut feeling about this case,” Howson on Friday told the state Clemency and Pardons Board. The five-member group advises Gov. Chris Gregoire when inmates or ex-convicts seek early release or a rare gubernatorial pardon.
Born in 1939 in Louisiana, Grisby moved as a teenager to Spokane, graduating in 1957 from Lewis and Clark High School, according to public records requested by The Spokesman-Review. After a stint in prison and jobs at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and a paper mill, Grisby ended up in Seattle in 1977.
There he met Frazier, a heroin user. The two ended up at a Seattle apartment in a confrontation with a dealer over what they thought was tainted heroin. Six people were shot in the ensuing melee; one man survived with three gunshot wounds.
Grisby and Frazier were arrested, tried together and sentenced to life without parole. Prior to sentencing, Grisby took a polygraph indicating that he was telling the truth when he said he never shot anyone or handled either the .32 or the .38 used in the murders. Inadmissible in court, it was ignored by Howson at the time. He now thinks that he should have taken it into account when deciding how to charge each man.
“In this case we turned a deaf ear” to that and other details, Howson said Friday. Like the fact that the state’s “two-shooter theory,” based on the placement of bullets and shell casings, became increasingly less likely. And the fact that the right-handed Grisby himself was shot in the right arm and biceps early in the melee.
“I feel confident there are a lot of other things I have not yet remembered,” Howson told the board Friday. In retrospect, he said, he probably should have plea-bargained with Grisby for a 20-year sentence. Grisby, soon to turn 67, has served 28 years so far.
Two former inmates who served time with Frazier – George Morgan and Roland Andrews – say that Frazier told them he was the gunman. It’s impossible to ask Frazier; he died in prison.
By some accounts, Grisby is a grandfatherly figure at Monroe Correctional Complex, where he is involved with numerous groups and youth programs.
“I can’t restore life, so what I’ve done in these last 28 years is try to rekindle the broken dreams of other people,” he told the board by phone.
The lone surviving victim, however, was not impressed. Walter Johnson, who sold Frazier that $20 worth of heroin in 1978, said he saw two shoes approach as he was shot the third time. They were “Hush Puppy-type shoes” worn by Grisby, he said. Frazier wore boots.
Arvetta Outlaw, whose grandmother was among those gunned down, felt that Grisby showed no remorse.
“The only memory that I have of my grandmother is going to her grave every Mother’s Day,” she told the board.
“His wife gets a chance to visit him,” said another woman. “I’ll never get a chance to visit my Mama.”
A third woman wept loudly, begging the board not to release Grisby.
In the end, the clemency board said no. While it was “extraordinary” to have a prosecutor speak on behalf of an inmate, board member John Turner said, Howson’s powerful testimony was erased “tenfold” by Grisby’s “failure to accept responsibility.”
Board member Raul Almeida was turned off by Grisby’s long record of prison infractions, including theft, gambling and drug use.
And board chairman Robert Winsor, a former appeals court judge, said that he’d only recommend clemency if he felt “a strong, strong compelling need to right a wrong.”
“I don’t feel we have that kind of case,” he said.
The board on Friday also heard other requests, including:
Alejandro B. Garcia, a longtime Spokane painter and contractor convicted of heroin possession 15 years ago. Deported in 1996, he returned illegally to be with his family, most of whom are American-born. Now 47, Garcia asked for a gubernatorial pardon in hopes of avoiding permanent deportation.
“I have a loving family that needs me,” Garcia wrote to the board. He and his wife of 13 years have four children, and she cannot care for them on her own, he said.
“If Alex were breaking the law now, or endangering his children, or drinking or drugging, I could understand deporting him,” family friend Nanean Shupp, of Spokane, wrote to the board. “But not based on things that happened over 10 years ago.”
The board, however, said Garcia could provide no evidence that a pardon would save him from deportation. They recommended that the governor deny the request.