Dwight Griffin was one of the first people to receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole after Washington enacted the "three strikes" law in 1993. In 1994, he received this sentence after grabbing a money bag away from a young woman on her way to the bank and knocking her to the ground. She was not physically injured. Dwight has been in prison for 24 years.
Dwight had committed a string of robberies before he received his life sentence. Until his last robbery, his approach had always been to pretend he had a gun in his pocket by pointing his finger at someone behind a cash register and demanding the funds in the till. One woman refused to empty the cash register and Dwight simply ran away. Dwight never used a weapon or physically injured anyone in any of his crimes. He has expressed how terrorized his victims must have been by his crimes. He is particularly ashamed of his last crime where he came into physical contact with his last victim, who was a young woman in his community.
Dwight's crimes were motivated by drug addiction. As a teenager, Dwight was walking on the side of the road and was hit by a car. His leg and pelvis were broken and he was hospitalized for his injuries and suffered through terrible pain. He was treated with morphine and both he and his family believe this triggered his drug addiction.
Dwight's prior offenses were all drug-related. At his sentencing for the offense before he was "struck out," the Court found that Dwight's crimes were motivated by drug addiction and that this was a mitigating circumstance for sentencing. The judge ordered that the last 12 months of his sentence be served in an inpatient drug treatment facility. This sentence was never carried out and Dwight was released back to the community having had no treatment.
Dwight comes from a close and loving family and grew up with a close connection to his church. Dwight's wife stayed married to him during the 24 years he served in prison and his sons, young children when he received his life sentence, are now adults who have built relationships with their father notwithstanding his incarceration. Dwight's family pulled together to support him in his request for clemency, writing letters and coming to his hearing before the Clemency and Parole Board. This unusual family support was largely the result of Dwight undergoing personal transformation while serving his sentence and becoming a better son, husband and father, even as he prepared to die in prison.
When Dwight received his life sentence in 1994, he asked the Court to impose the death penalty instead. He wanted his wife and sons to be able to move on without him and he wanted the money that would be spent keeping him alive used instead to help young people struggling with drug addiction. In a sense, Dwight had given up on himself when the Court sentenced him to spend the rest of his natural life in prison. However, at some point during his incarceration, he decided to become a better person than he had been before receiving this sentence. He engaged in whatever limited programming was available to him in prison, read, and formed relationships with others. He became a mentor to younger men and held himself up as a cautionary tale for them because they still had a chance at a good life after their release. He became a known peacemaker ("Bishop Tutu") inside the prison walls and was able to communicate with angry and difficult inmates and de-escalate conflict. He stopped being angry and blaming others and took responsibility for what he had done to his family, his community and himself. He began to lead others by example.
By the time Dwight reached out to Jennifer Smith and Jon Zulauf, he was one of the first clients to contact the fledgling Seattle Clemency Project to see if they might be willing to take a look at his case. Jennifer Smith and Emily Zulauf went to go meet Dwight and found a guy who they believed was ready to engage in the long and emotionally difficult process of seeking clemency. Jennifer Horwitz was assigned to Dwight's case. She told him the good news was he had a lawyer who would work hard and was committed to him. The bad news, she said, was she had never before done a clemency petition. Dwight put his trust in Jennifer and they worked on his case as a team for a year and a half.
Dwight and Jennifer addressed the Clemency and Pardons Board on December 7, 2017 and, with the support of the elected prosecutor in the county where Dwight received his life sentence, asked the Board to recommend that the sentence be commuted. Dwight had 22 people at the hearing to support him. The prosecutor spoke persuasively about why Dwight should be considered for clemency. The Board unanimously recommended release. The Governor signed an order commuting Dwight's sentence May 4, 2018.
Dwight looks forward to giving back once he is released. He would like to go speak in schools and help kids understand the cost of getting involved in drugs and crime. Dwight has several family members with serious illnesses and he feels it is his turn to support them. He hopes to help care for his sick family members with the time he has once released. Dwight has expressed a wish to be involved in the work of the Seattle Clemency Project and would like to appear and fundraisers and promotional events to talk about how the work of SCP changed his and his family's life.
Here are a few pictures of him and his family!