“I want you to look at me when I talk to you right now,” Maria Terranova told Charles Rushing-Griffen as she took the stand. “Do you remember who I am?”
Rushing-Griffen should: he had robbed Terranova at gunpoint on Dec. 5 as she was closing her restaurant on State Street in Bunnell, one in a string of masked robberies or attempted robberies and thefts at the restaurant, at two Palm Coast gas stations and at Walmart Rushing-Griffen committed between November and December until his arrest later that month.
He was facing more than a half dozen charges that added up to a maximum penalty of 125 years in prison. This morning he agreed to a plea that resulted in a mandatory 30-year prison sentence, with no possibility of early release.
Terranova was attending the sentencing hearing with two other people, as were members of the Sheriff’s Office and a victim’s advocate. Shortly before Circuit Judge Dennis Craig pronounced sentence, Terranova asked to speak.
Rushing-Griffen, a very large man, sat in shackles and his orange jumpsuit across the courtroom, looking at Terranova as she was sworn in and stepped into the witness box. Assistant State Prosecutor Melissa Clark stopped Terranova from addressing Rushing-Griffen or even looking at him, telling her that she’d have to look at her (Clark) as she spoke.
Earlier, when Clark had asked her and the people she was sitting with whether they wished to address the court, Terranova told her she wanted to otherwise she might regret not doing so.
“I am happy to know that he has his 30 years,” Terranova said from the stand. “I know that tonight I’ll be able to sleep a lot easier, even though he’s been in prison all this time, we didn’t know what the outcome was going to be.” She thanked all those who put in the hours to lead to Rushing-Griffen’s arrest and prosecution.
“But that day he did stare at me in the eyes and didn’t stop, and I’d like to stare at him in the eyes right now, just for a second. May I?” Terranova asked the judge.
“Go ahead,” Craig said.
And so she did, a brief, silent glare across the courtroom.
Clark asked her if there was anything else she wished to say. There wasn’t. “But,” Terranova said, again looking at Rushing-Griffen, “you can watch me walk away as I watch you walk out through that door and not walk out for 30 years.”
They were not smartly executed robberies. At 300 pounds and 6 feet tall, Rushing-Griffen has a distinctive physique whether he wears a ski mask or not. That physique had appeared in the surveillance video of the Mobil station on Pine Lakes Parkway within days of the Terranova robbery, and again in video and as described by victims and witnesses of the Dec. 14 armed robbery of the Shell gas station on Palm Coast Parkway. Within hours of that robbery detectives were able to connect dots, leading to a traffic stop that led to his arrest. Rushing-Griffen, 27, and his home at 6 Ryall Lane in Palm Coast, were no stranger to local law enforcement. That home was searched on Oct. 2. Weapons, including an assault rifle, and cash were uncovered, but Rushing-Griffen himself was not arrested. Two of his roommates were.
Rushing-Griffen had served one stint in state prison before, a one-year term for selling synthetic marijuana on charges stemming from Marion County (he lived in Ocala). He actually served only seven months, getting released in October 2016, at some point moving to Palm Coast. Since he was a convicted felon and had served in prison within three years of his most recent charges, the gravity of the new charges was increased, and he faced what could have been two life terms. The deal was such that the life terms were reduced to first degree felonies by downgrading the robbery with a firearm charges to robbery “with a weapon” instead.
Rushing-Griffen took the deal, pleading no context.
“That 30 years you’re going to do day for day, you understand that?” Craig told him.
“Yes, sir,” Rushing-Griffen said.
If he had not been categorized as a prison re-offender, he would have been eligible for a 15 percent good-behavior credit off his sentence, which would have reduced it by four and a half years.
“Quite frankly,” the judge told him, “you benefited from the victims agreeing to your sentence. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a young man offered 30 or 35 years on a case where it’s PRR [prison–release re-offender] that didn’t take it, and regretted not taking it. So quite frankly your agreeing to the 30 years is very smart on your part, and you have the state and the victims who agreed to it to thank for that as well. OK? All right, Mr. Griffen, good luck to you.”
Bailiffs finger-printed him, then, to Terranova’s glare, he walked out slowly, at one point looking back in what appeared to be one final stare.