Accused rapist-murderer seeks dismissal


POSTED: Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A defendant in a 1999 rape and murder is asking a state judge to dismiss charges handed down by a grand jury because of statements its counsel made to the panel.

Darnell Griffin, 50, faces trial in state court in the rape and killing of Evelyn Luka.

A motorist found Luka, 20, unconscious near the Ka Uka Boulevard onramp to the H-2 freeway on Sept. 6, 1999. She died in the hospital a month later, never having regained consciousness. The Honolulu medical examiner said Luka was strangled and had bruises and scratches on her face and body.

The case remained unsolved until police said they matched DNA recovered from Luka's body with Griffin.

An Oahu grand jury returned an indictment April 4, 2007, charging Griffin with second-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault.

During the proceeding, a grand juror asked the lawyer assigned to answer the jurors' legal questions whether it is okay to ask police when and how Griffin become a suspect and why his DNA wasn't tested in 1999. The lawyer, identified as independent counsel, said, “;Maybe they didn't have access to the information, the DNA information until later. I think there is a law that requires sex offenders to keep registering and things like that,”; according to the transcript.

The independent counsel also said he read about the case in the newspaper and that he doesn't believe “;this fellow was a suspect until the DNA match.”;

And when the grand juror suggested the DNA test could be wrong, the counsel suggested Griffin wouldn't be a suspect if there wasn't a match.

Police had Griffin's DNA because of a 2005 state law requiring all convicted felons to submit samples to a national database.

A state judge sentenced Griffin to life in prison in 1983 for the 1980 strangulation murder of another woman on Oahu. He won parole in 1996.

In his request to have the case dismissed, Griffin says the independent counsel's statements were prejudicial because they comment on the strength of the DNA evidence and suggest he is a sex offender. Griffin also says the grand jury was not told that DNA from Luka's husband and a possible third person also was recovered from Luka's body.

In its response, the state said the grand jury was not prejudiced by the independent counsel's statements because the counsel told the grand jury he didn't know how police obtained Griffin's DNA for comparison nor what evidence the state has. The state also says semen recovered from Luka's body matches Griffin.

A hearing on Griffin's request is scheduled for tomorrow.