A Richmond man was sentenced Wednesday to 121/2 years in federal prison for drug possession and for pistol-whipping a confidential informant during an undercover drug buy.
Federal prosecutors say Keith Anthony Griffith assaulted and threatened to kill informant Cory Elliott in 2008, during a drug buy arranged with the knowledge of Richmond police.
Elliott suffered a gash to his head that required multiple stitches, a broken finger and a broken hand that has not completely healed.
At the prosecution's request during a sentencing hearing Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Coffman added four years to the normal minimum sentence in the case, citing the violence of Griffith's attack.
Such cases are rare, according to federal authorities.
The charges date from December 2008, when Elliott, working as an undercover informant for the Richmond Police Department, twice bought crack cocaine from Griffith. During the second purchase, Elliott wore a recording device under his shirt when he went to Griffith's apartment.
Elliott testified on Wednesday that Griffith suddenly became suspicious and ripped open Elliott's shirt to reveal the device. Elliott said Griffith, in a fit of rage, then punched and kicked him, assisted by Aaron Brennan, who also was at the apartment.
Elliott said he was unarmed and put up no resistance. According to Elliott, Brennan went to another room and returned with a semi-automatic pistol, which Griffith used to beat Elliott over the head.
Brennan, who testified Wednesday in hopes of a reduced sentence, said the pistol belonged to Griffith, who had ordered him to go and get it. Brennan is awaiting sentencing.
Elliott testified that at one point, Griffith put the gun to his head, shouting, "Tell me why I shouldn't shoot you!"
He also said that Griffith twice checked to make sure the pistol was loaded and either cocked the gun or operated the slide to put a bullet into the chamber.
Eliott said the beating continued as he fell to floor. He covered himself with his coat and managed to pull out his cell phone to call police officers waiting outside.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hydee Hawkins urged Judge Coffman to add time to Griffith's sentence, suggesting that such "senseless violence" against an informant could have a "chilling effect" on police officers' ability to recruit people to inform on lawbreakers. Informants are crucial in many criminal cases, Hawkins said.
Griffith's attorney, Jason Rothrock, asked for leniency in what he called "really a sad case."
Rothrock told the judge that Griffith had undergone a "change of heart." He also cited certain discrepancies in the testimony of Elliott and Brennan, and he noted that Griffith chose not to shoot Elliott even though he could easily have done so.
Griffith spoke briefly, telling the court that he was sorry.
Coffman ultimately sentenced Griffith to 18 months on each of two drug counts, running concurrently. She imposed the automatic minimum seven-year sentence for using a gun during a drug deal, then she tacked on four years because of the violence involved. She told Griffith that the sentence — totaling 150 months, or 121/2 years — was to send a message of respect for the law.
"Examples have to be made in some situations," Coffman said.
Griffith also must make restitution for more than $5,000 in medical bills that Elliott faces from the injuries he suffered.