'I didn't do it,' convicted murderer says as he's sentence to 50 years in prison

Saturday, 05 August 2017, 11:28:33 PM. Kalil Griffin, 31, of Long Branch, was sentenced Friday to a minimum of 41 years in prison without parole, nearly two years after his conviction on felony murder and armed robbery charges in the death of Ronald Chisolm.

FREEHOLD - A 30-year-old Long Branch man was sentenced to 50 years in prison Friday, after being convicted of felony murder in a 2011 fatal shooting and robbery in Asbury Park.

Kalil Griffin must serve a minimum of 41 years without parole, his lawyer and the prosecutor in the case said. Judge Richard English imposed the sentence in state Superior Court in Freehold.

Griffin has been held at the Monmouth County jail since his arrest days after the Feb. 18, 2011 death of 45-year-old Ronald Chisolm, and the lawyers said credit for six years he has served will mean he could be released in 35 years, when he will be in his mid-70's. Griffin has 45 days to appeal the sentence.

Griffin has maintained his innocence, even during his sentencing.

"I want to ask for mercy," Griffin told the judge, "but I feel like asking for mercy would be admitting something I didn't do."

His lawyer, Bob Konzelmann, said they believe a co-defendant in the case went back to Chisolm's apartment after the initial trip and committed the robbery and murder.

However, separate juries acquitted the co-defendant and convicted Griffin.

Joshua Simmons, 29, was acquitted of felony murder and other charges on February 2015, after he insisted during his trial that Griffin fatally shot Chisolm. Simmons said he was waiting in a car outside the Chisolm's  apartment, where he said he had thought they were going merely to buy marijuana. 

The judge could have sentenced Griffin to a minimum of 30 years in prison, but extended that minimum based on factors including six prior convictions, and noted that the murder occurred while Griffin was on probation for violating parole involving one of his priors.

Even before imposing the 50-year sentence, English granted a motion by Assistant Prosecutor Michael Costanzo seeking an extended minimum parole ineligibility based on Griffin's record, which included aggravated assault and handgun possession convictions. Constanzo said the state was satisfied with the sentence.  

"There's a certain amount of satisfaction that, after 2,300 days, justice is finally served," he said, referring to the six-plus years since Chisolm was fatally shot through the eye and the mouth.  

It was nearly two years between the sentencing and the day that Griffin was found guilty of felony murder, armed robbery and weapons possession charges by a Monmouth County jury in October 2015.

The delay was the result of an unusual chain or events, in which Konzelmann filed a motion asking that the judge interview several jurors to determine whether they had been intimidated by a group of white male colleagues bent on convicting Griffin, who is black. Konzelman said he was called by a juror an hour after the verdict was read to express her concerns.

Judge English granted the motion and intended to interview the jurors. But the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office appealed his decision, and a panel of the state Appellate Division sided with prosecutor's office and blocked the interviews.

"That motion has been ruled upon," English told Konzelman, who had mentioned it in an unsuccessful bid for leniency.  "And that's where we are."

Konzelmann, a former public defender now in his 49th year trying criminal cases,   blamed himself for not interviewing the juror who called him, even though that would have violated court rules.

He also said he regretted not hiring an independent forensics expert to testify that, according to the autopsy, the victim could not have died the night that prosecutors said the killing occurred, because evidence in his large intestine indicated he was still digesting food the next day.

"This is probably the most disheartening case of my whole career," Konzelmann told the judge.   

Griffin also made a statement, when he thanked English for granting the motion to interview the jurors, even though he was overruled by the appellate panel. Griffin then turned to face the victim's elderly mother, who was sitting in court, expressing sympathy for her loss while continuing to maintain his innocence.

"If I could take back all the stuff that led to your son dying, I would," he said. But, he added, "I didn't do it."

She declined to comment after the sentencing.

Steve Strunsky may be reached at sstrunsky@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveStrunsky. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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