Self-defense or murder? The I-team investigates a young North Carolina father's death

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A family has a lot of questions about the day a young father died.

The few minutes that altered lives and ended Christian Griggs's is still a mystery to his parents.

Nineteen months later, a closed criminal case and a new civil lawsuit pose plenty of unanswered questions about the morning the 23-year-old was gunned down by his father-in-law on family property.

"Self-defense? How do you claim self-defense when you shoot a man in the back?" asked Griggs' father, Tony Griggs, during a February interview in the family's Angier home.

"If it was not happening to me, I wouldn't believe it," added Dolly Griggs, describing the couple's ongoing legal fight for answers.

The only three witnesses to what happened would be Christian Griggs, his estranged wife Katie, and Katie's father, Pat Chisenhall.

Katie Griggs and Chisenhall declined repeated requests to comment on this story. Christian Griggs was gunned down that October, 2013 morning, and the investigative file outlining the Harnett County district attorney's decision not to press charges remains unavailable to the media, the Griggs family, and their attorneys.

Still, the family believes their answers may come in a wrongful death lawsuit filed last month. That suit requests a jury trial.

"It's not over until God says it's over first," declared Tony Griggs.

HIGH SCHOOL SWEETHEARTS TURNED HUSBAND AND WIFE

Christian and Katie Griggs met at Harnett Central High School.

Christian, whose parents were career Army officers, was a standout athlete and honors student, his family said. Katie belonged to a well-known family. Her father was a respected pastor in the community.

During senior year, when Katie became pregnant with the couple's daughter, Jaden, the news was tough for both families.

"Christian wanted to do the right thing, don't get me wrong," said Dolly Griggs. "He wanted to do the right thing."

The Griggs said they encouraged their son to continue his freshman studies at North Carolina State University, where he had a full ride to study computer engineering.

Christian had other plans.

"So he elected to let his four-year scholarship go, (and) enlist in the Army so he could support his family and take care of his family," said Tony Griggs.

Pat Chisenhall, a local pastor and Katie's father, would marry the two. A tumultuous relationship that survived a tour of duty in Iraq, a move to Georgia, and a move back home would include evidence of domestic disturbances and doubts.

Four years of marriage, a home purchase, and a child would result in a legal separation for the young couple in the spring of 2013.

In the fall of 2013, Pat Chisenhall would baptize his son-in-law.

Three weeks later, he'd kill him on his front porch in a homicide described as self-defense by authorities.

OCTOBER 12, 2013

Following his discharge from the Army, Christian Griggs returned to North Carolina State University to pick up those computer engineering studies.

A legal agreement and Christian's academic calendar showed where he would pick up a then-four-year-old Jaden twice a month. At the time, Christian lived in Wake County, while his daughter lived with Katie at Pat Chisenhall's home.

"They had this agreement that he would get her every other weekend," said Dolly Griggs. "And when it was his weekend to get Jaden, he would come down and so he was not able to get in touch with her."

Tensions between the two would boil over on the morning of October 12, 2013, when Christian was scheduled to pick up Jaden. Over the phone, he'd tell his father that Jaden was nowhere to be found, and no one was coming to Chisenhall's front door.

"Christian had joint custody of his daughter," said Tony Griggs. "He had every right to be there to get his daughter."

"He had reached out to thirteen attorneys that morning trying to call to get help," said Dolly Griggs, referencing Christian's a cell phone log.

But it was his call to his father around 11 a.m. that would mark Christian's final moments.

"He called me and said 'Dad, this guy, referring to Pat Chisenhall, is out here telling me to shut the F- up,'" recalled Tony Griggs.

"Does that sound like a man who's afraid of my son?" asked Dolly Griggs.

"I said 'Son, I'm on my way,'" said Tony Griggs.

Three miles and approximately six minutes separate the Griggs and Chisenhall front doors in Angier, but by the time Tony Griggs arrived, it was too late.

"There was no sight of Christian. There was no sound. No one around," Tony Griggs said. "The window to the front of the front door is pushed in slightly to the left, maybe 6-8 inches, and I look to my immediate right and Christian is lying face down on the front porch-not moving."

An autopsy performed by the state medical examiner's office shows Christian was shot six times: once in the left shoulder, once in the abdomen, and four times in the back. He also had a severed spine. Chisenhall's Winchester .22 rifle was used in the shooting.

In an oral presentation with Griggs' first attorney, Harnett County authorities described the shots as having occurred in rapid fire with Pat Chisenhall shooting Christian from inside his home as Christian tried to break through a front window. They told the lawyers once Christian was shot twice in the front, he turned himself around in the window, and that's how he sustained the four shots to the back.

"And when I ask the D.A. about that, his response to me is 'I just can't arrest a man for shooting someone in the back,'" said Tony Griggs. "And my response to him was 'Well, you tell me under what pretenses it is acceptable to shoot a man in the back?' And I quote his response to me 'I'm not going to fuss with you.'"

The medical examiner reported being unable to tell the range of the shots because the clothes Christian was wearing did not arrive with him to the ME office from Wake Med where he was declared dead that day. The Griggs do not believe their son took all six shots in Chisenhall's window, in rapid fire succession.

"If you look at the autopsy report, there had to be an interruption in the shooting-based on those angles and those groupings," said Dolly Griggs. "But this is what they want us to believe."

Harnett County authorities did not respond to a request for 911 recordings from that day, but initial investigative reports describe Katie Griggs calling dispatchers, while hiding in a closet ahead of the shooting.

Authorities were dispatched to a "communicating threats" call that morning. Their notes describe finding Christian the way his father did, and heading into the home to retrieve several guns, including the Winchester .22 that was lying across the living room couch. The report notes a broken living room window, leaning on the couch in the living room. That deputy also noted finding Katie Griggs and Pat Chisenhall standing in the kitchen, "visibly upset."

Pat Chisenhall, who would later say he doesn't remember the events that morning, was never charged in the shooting. Authorities believe he was simply protecting his daughter from an estranged, enraged spouse and former soldier who was breaking into the home through that window.

Authorities do not note a prior criminal record tied to Christian Griggs, but on the evening before the shooting, Katie Griggs swore out a warrant on Christian. She told authorities he'd become upset after she and a "close friend" took Jaden to the zoo. Katie Griggs reported her husband ripped out an AC unit from a small window at her home that he also tried to crawl through before leaving the home.

That warrant would not be served because Christian was gunned down the next morning.
"Christian was unarmed, and Pat Chisenhall knew that," said Tony Griggs. "He knew who Christian was. This was broad daylight at 11:00."

CLOSED INVESTIGATION

Harnett County investigators marked the case "closed with no further investigation" on the same day as the shooting, although the Griggs said a detective visited their home three months later to tell them Chisenhall's story meshed with their findings, proving Chisenhall acted in self-defense. The January 17 visit would come months ahead of the DA's decision not to press charges, they said.

Vernon Stewart, Harnett County's District Attorney, would tell the Griggs he had his best investigator on the job. Stewart declined to comment on the case following the Griggs' interview, and said it was against his policy to release his final findings, which would outline the evidence retrieved from the crime scene. His office verbally shared some of their findings with Griggs' lawyers, but no one outside of law enforcement on the prosecutor's office has seen the information.

Several calls requesting information on the case, including the 911 recordings, were not returned by the Harnett County Sheriff's Office in February.

The Griggs said they have tried to get the State Bureau of Investigations involved, but they will not touch the case unless Harnett County authorities request their assistance.

They've also requested involvement through the Governor's Office and Department of Justice.

"The DA has what is called prosecutorial discretion, but at some point discretion falls off and it becomes discrimination," said Tony Griggs. "Had I perpetrated the same act and shot his daughter six times on my front porch, there's no doubt in my mind I would have been arrested that day. There's no doubt in my mind and I should have been arrested that day, because that is what the law says."

WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT

Dolly Griggs, her mother-in-law, and daughter would arrive at the scene shortly after Tony Griggs found his son lying motionless.

The family challenges images of the crime scene they would later see on the news, and that's one of several complaints outlined in the recently filed civil suit.

The wrongful death suit, filed last month, names Katie Griggs and Pat Chisenhall as defendants, and seeks more than $250,000 in damages.

Shortly before this story airing, Chisenhall's daughter-in-law reached out to Eyewitness News, saying her volunteer firefighter husband also responded to the scene.

"That's exactly what my husband saw that day," said Deeandra Chisenhall, referring to the crime scene investigators described in their incident report. She also described a tumultuous relationship between Christian and Katie Griggs.

Deeandra Chisenhall said she has encouraged the family to speak out about that day, noting the problems "didn't just start with this incident."

She also said Jaden carries a photo of her father to school, has said she misses him, and also remembers the night before the shooting and her daddy being "really mad" with her mommy.

Tony and Dolly Griggs's son is buried a few minutes from their home in Fuquay-Varina.

"I go visit him every week, and sometimes twice a week," said Dolly Griggs.

They also said they've tried to get visitation rights with their granddaughter.

"I feel like she'll come look for us one day," said Dolly Griggs.

"At some point she'll want to know where she came from and who her people are," said Tony Griggs.

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