Army Spc. Justin Cannon could no longer speak. He broke down in tears, pleading for mercy on the witness stand during the sentencing phase of his court-martial Friday.
Cannon, 22, of Peculiar, could spend the next 50 years in prison for killing a 24-year-old man who he thought had been having sex with the soldier’s 16-year-old wife.
On Thursday, the fourth day of the five-day trial, a military panel of eight found the soldier guilty of murder without premeditation for killing Michael Griggs of Raymore during a weekend camping trip that involved alcohol. Griggs’ body was found floating in Truman Lake on Aug. 1, 2011.
In an Army uniform, Cannon sat stoically while his sentence was read.
Under military law, he could have been sentenced to up to life in prison. In addition to the 50 years with eligibility for parole, Cannon’s sentence included dishonorable discharge, demotion to the rank of private and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. He has the right to appeal.
“I apologize for the loss of Michael,” Cannon told the court-martial before his sentencing. “It was a tragic situation that should never have happened.”
Military prosecutors argued during the trial that Cannon crept up behind Griggs in the dark, struck him in the head with a rock and pushed him into the lake, where he drowned. The defense argued that Griggs died of injuries he suffered during an epileptic seizure and that Cannon’s confession to the murder had been coerced.
Cannon had been deployed to Afghanistan. He returned to Peculiar from Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga., to attend the funeral of his wife, Amber Cannon. She had been found dead in a Grandview motel. Officials ruled that her death was caused by an overdose of the prescription anti-anxiety drug Xanax.
The July 28, 2011, camping trip preceded her funeral, which was held the same day a conservation agent found Griggs’ body floating in the water.
Griggs’ mother, Lori Quick, said after the sentencing that she was “very happy” with the outcome.
“I don’t have a son anymore. Michael was the life of our house. Our house is like a mausoleum now.”
Tears streaked the cheeks of Griggs’ grandfather Joe Kazmierczak, who testified during the sentencing proceeding that he and his grandson had been “very close” and had planned to start a business together.
“There is an emptiness now that will never be filled again,” Kazmierczak said as he wept.
Cannon’s parents, Charles Cannon of Blue Springs and Sandra Cannon of Peculiar, sat quietly behind their son as the sentence was read. Earlier on the witness stand, Charles Cannon begged the military panel to be lenient on his son, a Boy Scout who had become an Eagle Scout.
“I will be praying for Justin’s family,” Tina Bredehoeft, Griggs’ aunt and godmother, said after the trial. “And as a Christian, I truly hope that Justin can be rehabilitated.”