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Saying he fears for his safety, public defender begs off Minn. rape case

Larry Donnell Griffin, 38, of Maplewood. Courtesy of Ramsey County

ST. PAUL—Allegations of bullying, badgering and threats flew in a Ramsey County courtroom Tuesday between a man heading toward trial for allegedly raping four women in St. Paul and the attorney assigned to defend him.

Standing in front of the courtroom, public defender Bruce Wenger asked the judge March 14 to dismiss him as well as the public defender's office from Larry Griffin's case. He made the rare request, Wenger said, because of fears for his safety.

Griffin, 39, is accused of raping four women in St. Paul late last year.

In three of the four cases, he is accused of approaching women who were walking alone on Payne Avenue, forcing them into his car at gunpoint and raping them, according to the criminal complaints filed against him. In the last case, authorities say he threatened a woman with a knife who had accepted a ride from him before he sexually assaulted her.

Wenger was appointed to defend Griffin in November. It was his last two meetings with Griffin that compelled him to ask for the dismissal, Wenger told Ramsey County District Judge Richard Kyle on Tuesday.

"Mr. Griffin got extremely agitated and began shouting ... and using profanity ... and I wasn't able to get a word in edgewise," Wenger said of one of the meetings. "(It was basically) him berating me and saying I couldn't do my job."

He added that at one point Griffin threatened that he "better get out of here now," and assumed an aggressive stance. Wenger said he felt so intimidated that, for the first time in his professional career, he pressed an emergency button to alert deputies of the situation.

A subsequent meeting had to be broken up by deputies after three minutes when Griffin again became combative, Wenger said.

"In my 32-year career ... I have never felt threatened like this," Wenger said.

He went on to say he thought it would be "absolutely ... impossible" for him to fairly represent Griffin because he was "afraid" to talk to him.

Speaking calmly and quietly, Griffin, who was standing next to Wenger during the hearing, relayed a different version of events.

He told Kyle that while there had been "heated moments" between him and Wenger, at no time did he ever threaten him.

He reminded the judge that he's "fighting for his life" in this case so his passion is difficult to contain.

His frustration with Wenger has been fueled by what he feels is inadequate representation, he said.

"I only want to have a defense attorney that will listen to the facts ... and not badger and bully me and try and make me take a deal for something that I did not do," Griffin said. "(Wenger) has made it very clear since day one that I am going to lose my case. ... He'd bet his million-dollar home that I'm going to lose."

Griffin added that he wants an attorney who has faith in him and will listen to what he says, as opposed to negotiating deals with the prosecution.

Griffin wrote several letters expressing his concerns about Wenger to the public defender's office, the Ramsey County court and the Minnesota Lawyer Professional Responsibility Board.

Griffin also said Tuesday that he had the "utmost respect" for the public defender's office and had worked successfully with public defenders in the past.

After listening to both men's perspectives, Kyle reminded Griffin that it's Wenger's job to tell his client about the case facing him and advise him accordingly. He also said Griffin does not have the right to handpick his public defender.

He took a brief recess before ruling that Wenger would continue on the case despite the attorney's concerns, which Kyle said were valid. If Griffin's problematic behavior continues, he said, Wenger could file another motion seeking dismissal.

He added that without a public defender on his case, Griffin would be left to defend himself during his high-stakes trial.

"You do not want to be alone on this case," Kyle told Griffin.

Griffin faces several counts of first-degree criminal-sexual conduct, as well as kidnapping and aggravated robbery charges stemming from incidents authorities say took place between August and October of 2016.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service