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A former employee of a Taylor trucking company was sentenced to life in prison Monday for shooting his boss to death, starting a deadly rampage in which he also killed a man in Pontiac.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Talon sentenced Vernest Griffin, 46, of Sterling Heights on a range of offenses that included murder, felony firearms, armed robbery and felonious assault in the slaying of 60-year-old Keith Kitchen at BSD Linehaul on Feb. 1, 2018.

Griffin will serve two years for the felony firearms conviction, followed by 32-48 months for felonious assault. He will serve 45-75 years for armed robbery and natural life for the murder of Kitchen.

Employees of BSD gave horrific accounts during a preliminary examination for Griffin last year. The shooting followed an incident involving Griffin at the company about three months earlier.

Kitchen's family members came to the sentencing wearing T-shirts bearing his picture; his widow, Michelle, and some of his siblings wore necklaces with lockets that contained some of Kitchen's ashes.

"You are very strong," Talon told them. "I can see the pain. I know the pain will not go away. I'm sorry."

The judge said he will remember Kitchen and the other shooting victim, Eriberto Perez, for the "rest of my life."

Griffin refused to come into the courtroom to face the family and to hear his sentence in person. He reportedly had a video and audio connection to be able to hear the proceedings.

Standing outside the courtroom next to Kitchen's widow, his sister Margaret said: "I wish they (had) come out to tell us he's hanging in his cell. That's what I wish for. I'm angry.

"It's not going to bring back my brother, not going to back her husband," Kitchen's sister said. "It's not going to bring back my mother's son."

Michelle Kitchen added, "We're going to stick together. We're going to stick together and get through it together" while they watch the victim's grandchildren grow up.

According to authorities, after shooting Kitchen, Griffin drove to the Aluminum Blanking Co. in Pontiac, where he killed Perez, 58, of Waterford Township.

Perez was shot multiple times in the back as he sat at his desk about 11:37 a.m. Feb. 1, 2018.

About an hour later, Griffin allegedly drove to nearby Waterford Township, where he entered the Assured Trucking business off Dixie Highway and asked the whereabouts of one of the workers. When he could not find the individual, he left. 

“He told one worker ‘I’m not looking for you,’ before he left,” Waterford Township police Chief Scott Underwood said at the time. “We have since interviewed the worker he had asked about, who told us he had never had a cross word with (the suspect). It’s a mystery what angered him.”

During an exchange of gunfire with police, the suspect was wounded by a police shotgun blast, then disarmed and taken into custody. Several 30-round magazines for the AK-47 were found inside the vehicle, which Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said indicated to him that he suspect “was not through.”

Patrice Emery Lumumba, one of the truck drivers at the Taylor company, described being horrified as he ran for his life during the shooting. 

Lumumba said Griffin asked for the keys to the truck Lumumba was about to drive and pointed a gun at him. Lumumba said he fled from the truck and hid.

Griffin is scheduled to go to trial in July for the Oakland County killing.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027

 

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