Crime & Courts

Eagle River woman sentenced to 4 years for sex assault of US airman

A 41-year-old woman from the Anchorage suburb of Eagle River was sentenced Friday to four years in jail for sexually assaulting a U.S. Air Force airman. The presiding Anchorage Superior Court judge called the case unusual and pondered aloud why an educated woman would commit such a crime.

Lagina Griffiths offered the victim a ride but instead drove him to her Eagle River house. When the airman fell asleep on Griffiths' couch, she sexually assaulted him.

The airman awoke twice and told her to stop. In the days following the unwanted sexual encounter, Griffiths threatened to tell the man's commanding officer and his wife, who was stationed in Japan, about what happened if he refused to willingly have sex. The airman recorded Griffiths' attempted blackmail and gave the recording to the Anchorage police. Charges of first- and second-degree sexual assault, as well as coercion, were handed up.

Assistant district attorney Jack McKenna said sexual assault cases involving female offenders and male victims aren't unheard of, though they are uncommon. Sex assaults are generally underreported, regardless of the victim's gender, he said.

"This case could have proven more difficult," McKenna said. "There's an initial barrier of unfamiliarity, but once we get past that, the jury would recognize men can be victimized, too."

Griffiths appeared in court wearing the yellow general population scrubs issued to Alaska Department of Corrections inmates. She's been in custody since pleading guilty to a single attempted second-degree sexual assault charge in October and will receive credit for time served. The remaining charges were dropped as part of a plea deal.

Hanging her head, Griffiths eyes shifted from the top of the defendant's table to Superior Court Judge Michael Spaan. She spoke briefly during the sentencing, saying she was "very, very sorry ... I'm going to be sorry for this for forever."

According to court testimony, Griffiths has a doctorate in epidemiology and has been married for a decade. She did not offer any reason as to why she sexually assaulted the airman.

Blackmail and a wiretap

Griffiths was arrested in August 2012. She was charged with sexual assault and coercion after meeting the airman at the now defunct Rumrunners bar, which used to be a popular downtown nightspot.

The airman, identified only as N.D., was at the bar with two British soldiers and in Alaska performing exercises with the Air Force, according to charging documents. Anchorage Police Department Detective Brett Sarber wrote in the affidavit that Griffiths offered the 25-year-old airman a ride back to his hotel on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

After he got into the car with Griffiths, she said she didn't want to be pulled over for a DUI while going through an entry gate on base, and instead took him to her house, where he was going to sleep on the couch. But Griffiths started to sexually assault the airman as he slept. That constituted second-degree sexual assault, since the airman told her to stop and she did.

"She then re-engaged with him again a short time later, which is when it would go to first-degree assault since he had told her not to engage in sexual acts with him," said Sgt. Ken McCoy, an Anchorage Police Department Special Victims Unit detective, in a previous interview with Alaska Dispatch.

The unwanted sexual encounter happened on a Friday, and two days later, Griffiths contacted the airman and threatened to go public with that encounter. He didn't take the threats lightly; he recorded more than an hour of audio on his phone from the conversation, which he shared with police. Sarber wrote that "it became very obvious" from the recording that Griffiths wanted to engage in intercourse with the airman, in exchange for which she wouldn't tell his wife and "wreck his life."

The bizarre saga continued when APD arranged a wiretap. Police had the airman call Griffiths in an attempt to have her more explicitly outline her threats. She was evasive during the call, but when she contacted the military man's wife in Japan, police brought her in for questioning. Griffith's account contradicted the initial recorded conversation, and she was charged with first- and second-degree sex assault, as well as coercion.

Griffiths changed her plea in October. She pleaded guilty to the single attempted sex assault charge, and the remaining charges were merged for sentencing purposes.

‘Brazen manipulation’

McKenna said Griffiths' was case "singular" because of the victim's gender but also the defendant's conduct after the assault. Her crimes are not any less severe and condemnation is warranted, just as it would be in a case involving a man, he said.

Griffiths does not have a criminal record, but her "brazen manipulation" is one of the reasons the state recommended a sentence of six years. Second-degree attempted sexual assault carries a presumptive term of two to 12 years.

Defense attorney Michael McDonough argued his client has taken full responsibility for her actions.

McDonough disagreed with the state about the case being handled as any other sex assault crime. If, for example, the 25-year-old, physically fit airman attempted to rape Griffiths, she'd likely fear for her life. Conversely, the airman could have left Griffiths' home when he first awoke, but he didn't, he said.

"You're looking at sending a lady to prison that's never been in court for a criminal matter," McDonough said. "She's been punished and she'll continue to be punished for the rest of her life. She'll be on the sex offender registry ... it will follow her every time she tries to get a job."

Spaan imposed registration on the list for 15 years. He said the case was one of the most bizarre he's ever witnessed as a judge.

Still, he said, "To me, it doesn't really matter who's the aggressor. That's a neutral concept in 2014."