BY KEITH EPPS / THE FREE LANCE-STAR
When she was acquitted in June of the four most serious charges in a case that involved burned children, Valleshia Margaret Griffin leapt from her wheelchair in Stafford County Circuit Court and shouted thanks to Jesus.
She had a much different reaction Tuesday when a judge ordered her to serve 12 times the maximum recommended sentences on the four remaining child cruelty charges.
Judge J. Howe Brown sentenced the 52-year-old Griffin to 16 years in prison with all but six years suspended.
She has already served nine months and would have likely been released Tuesday had Brown followed the guidelines, which called for a maximum penalty of six months.
Griffin cried profusely and wailed loudly after the judge announced the decision. Some of her supporters in the courtroom had heated reactions. One man had to be escorted from the building after directing angry comments at prosecutors Ryan Frank and Michael Hardiman.
The case against Griffin stems from a Dec. 2 incident on England Pointe Drive off U.S. 17 in southern Stafford in which two children suffered third-degree burns and didn't receive medical treatment until three days later.
She was caring for four siblings between the ages of 5 and 9; two of the children are her biological grandchildren.
Prosecutors argued that she held the childrens' hands over a stove as punishment for misbehavior. The two most seriously burned children are not her biological grandchildren.
At her trial, prosecutors introduced a taped statement in which Griffin admitted that she had burned the children. But in her defense, Griffin said those statements were made under duress and that the children were fine when she left for the evening.
Her attorney, Jeff Grimstead, argued that the children's mother, Josetta Hawkins, was a more likely suspect. Griffin claimed that Hawkins delayed getting the children treatment because she was afraid of having them taken from her again.
Hawkins is charged in Stafford with two counts of child cruelty and two counts of child neglect. She has a trial scheduled for Oct. 2.
The four charges that the jury cleared Griffin of included aggravated malicious wounding, which carries a minimum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The jury was unable to decide on the child cruelty charges, and Griffin would have gotten a new trial on those charges had she not pleaded guilty immediately after the verdict.
In pleading guilty, Griffin admitted burning the children. But Tuesday, she again denied doing anything to harm them.
Grimstead asked the judge to stay within the guidelines, which he argued are fair. But Frank argued that Griffin deserved the maximum penalty allowed by law--20 years.
"She already got the benefit of lying to the jury," Frank said. "She shouldn't get the benefit now."
Keith Epps: 540/374-5404