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BOLIVIA — A jury took less than an hour to find 53-year-old Richard Hugh Grissett guilty of first-degree murder in Brunswick County Superior Court on Thursday, April 10.
Grissett was also convicted of first-degree burglary, common law robbery and possession of a firearm by a felon in the killing of 86-year-old Linnie Mae Ward.
Grissett was accused of beating and strangling Ward during a burglary at her Longwood home Nov. 12, 2012.
Judge Wayland Sermons sentenced Grissett to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Grissett was also sentenced to 128 to 166 months in prison on the burglary charge and 25 to 39 months on the firearm charge.
Donald Ward, Ward’s son-in-law, offered a victim impact statement after the verdict was delivered.
“My family has suffered a great loss for which I don’t have words to express the deep hurt it’s caused,” he said. “We’ve tried to remember her for all the good times we’ve had.”
When Ward said the family forgave Grissett, Grissett became visibly emotional.
“All we wanted was justice brought to this case,” Ward said.
Ward said he’d miss his mother-in-law’s phone calls five times a day and wishes she was here to spend time with her great grandchildren, newborn twins.
Grissett cried as Ward elaborated on her life.
“I cut her garden down to two rows because she got feeble,” he said. “She’d take the hoe out there and dig up two more rows … she had a lot of life left in her.
“She was a woman of little means, but she was a wealthy woman.”
Ward thanked the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office for their work on the case.
Ward’s son, John Ward, also spoke, standing up and telling Grissett he had been forgiven.
“We’ve forgiven him in our hearts,” John Ward said. “We hope he will repent for his crime and accept the Lord as his Savior. That’s all I have to say.”
Before Sermons sentenced Grissett to life in prison without parole, which is required in the state of North Carolina for adults convicted of first-degree murder, he said Grissett “was indeed a career criminal if I’ve ever seen one.”
“I can think of no greater example of Christian love than what I’ve seen today from (Ward’s) family,” Sermons said before the sentencing.
District Attorney Jon David said this was an exceptional case because the victim was “in a low-risk spot” in the sanctity of her own home.
“She should’ve been in the most peaceful spot, in her home,” David said. “Richard Grissett ripped apart that security.
“This case generated a lot of interest, and I’m glad we could bring justice to a very difficult situation.”
Assistant District Attorney Lee Bollinger commended the sheriff’s office for its work on the investigation.
“I can't say enough about those folks. Some times they’d run two or three days at a time with little to no sleep,” he said. “They ran things down. It was very good police work.”
During closing arguments, Bollinger showed the jurors a verdict sheet and urged them to deliver a guilty verdict on the first-degree murder charge.
“Evidence has been poked at in this case with very limited cross-examination,” he told the jurors.
Bollinger said the defense had provided nothing in the case other than “smoke and mirrors.”
“When I made my opening statement, I never told you Richard Hugh Grissett had confessed to the crime,” he said. “The reason is the evidence in this case is so strong that he could be convicted without the confession.”
The prosecutor said more than 100 pieces of evidence pointed directly to Grissett. He said law enforcement did “great police investigative work” in determining Grissett had been at Ward’s house the day she was killed.
“Proof beyond a reasonable doubt, folks? There it is,” Bollinger told the jurors. “This is not a whodunit. The defendant walked into her home … she was already in her bedroom. ‘I’m here to get money. I’m here to rob you.’
“Think about that. She’s got a bad back. She’s got bad knees. Where’s she going to go?”
Bollinger said when Grissett took the rifle Ward used for defense away from her, that wasn’t enough.
“OK, you’ve got the rifle. Don’t get on top of her and beat her eyes black. He wants to pound her in the face. Why? He placed his hands on her throat,” Bollinger said.
That’s when she called on the only source of strength she had left, Bollinger said.
“’Dear Jesus, Dear Jesus, Dear Jesus,’” he said.
Because Grissett removed a rifle from Ward’s house, he committed common law robbery, Bollinger said. Regardless of Grissett’s intent when he entered the home, because he committed common law robbery and eventually killed Ward, he was guilty of first-degree murder under the felony murder rule.
Finally, Bollinger replayed video footage of the interview with Grissett and sheriff’s Detective John Holman. Each time Grissett detailed what he did to Linnie Ward on Nov. 12, 2012, Bollinger stopped the recording and repeated Grissett’s confessions to the jury.
Grissett’s lawyer, Mike Ramos of Shallotte, told the jurors investigators failed to submit one piece of evidence to the state crime lab in Raleigh for DNA testing.
“This is where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “It’s not the job of police to carry the burden of proof. It’s the state’s job to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Ramos said it was extremely rare for no evidence to be submitted to the SBI.
“Wouldn’t you want that if you were in (Grissett’s) chair?” he asked the jurors before urging them to “hold the state to its burden of proof.”
Two jurors said they weren’t certain Grissett would’ve been convicted of first-degree murder without his confessions on video.
“Before the video, everyone was undecided I think,” one juror said. “Between the video and the police’s due diligence, if they hadn’t gotten the video confession, it would’ve been difficult.”
When they saw video footage of Grissett telling sheriff’s Detective John Holman he committed the crime, “the decision got a lot easier,” another juror said.
The jurors said the fact Holman built a strong rapport with Grissett throughout the course of the investigation played a significant role in the case.
“You could tell (Grissett) trusted that cop,” one juror said. “Holman even gave Grissett the night to relax and think about everything, and he came back 12 hours later and admitted to it. He connected with that officer and I think that’s why he confessed.”
One juror said this was a case “where there are no winners.”
“I feel horrible for both families. Of course, (Ward’s) family is distraught. The other family is distraught. Overall it’s just a sad situation.”
Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or email@example.com.