Prosecutors seek death penalty in stabbing death of HART driver

Image 1 of 3

The man accused of killing a HART bus driver will face the death penalty.

Hillsborough County prosecutors say Justin McGriff killed driver Thomas Dunn while the bus was in motion on Nebraska Ave. in May.

Prosecutors wrote Monday that there are four aggravating factors in the case, including:

-Others could have been hurt had the bus gone out of control;

-the killing was "cold and calculated;" 

-the stabbing of Dunn, preceded by McGriff saying, "God bless you," was "especially heinous."

"It wasn't a quick death," said legal analyst Anthony Rickman. "It was a slow death in which the victim suffered."

Dunn's family told FOX 13 News they are thankful prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. His brother said, "A life for a life." 

In May, he said, "We've got years of picking up pieces."

Rickman said the Hillsborough County Prosecutor's Office does not typically file death penalty notices in order to gain leverage in negotiations with defense attornies.

"They do not go willy nilly and say they are going to certify death in all of our cases," he said. "They made conscious reflection as Andrew Warren said, that they reserve the death penalty for the most heinous crimes."

McGriff is represented by a public defender, but it's unclear what kind of defense will be mounted. 

If McGriff is found guilty, Rickman expects defense attornies to investigate McGriff's background or the incident itself to find mitigating factors, ways to convince a sentencing jury that his life should be spared.

"We don't know everything about McGriff yet," said Rickman. "Somebody is going to go through McGriff's entire life, from childhood to where he is now, and talk about the hardships he's gone through, the life he has had, is there any mental illness?"