A Bridgeton woman accused of killing, burning and dismembering her 23-month-old son, then reporting he had been abducted, entered a not-guilty plea during her post-indictment arraignment on Monday morning.
Nakira M. Griner, 25, was indicted in June on first-degree murder and other charges in the death of Daniel Griner Jr.
She reported her son missing Feb. 8, claiming she was attacked on a Bridgeton street while walking to a store with Daniel in a stroller and her infant strapped to her chest. Griner said she was knocked to the ground and that when she looked up the stroller and Daniel were gone.
Police launched a search that ended with the discovery of burned and dismembered remains at the Griner family’s home.
An autopsy determined Daniel died of blunt force trauma and that he suffered multiple bone fractures.
During interviews with police, Griner admitted that she struck the child after he refused to eat his breakfast, according to her criminal complaint. She told police she struck him so hard that it left bruises on his face and also claimed he had fallen down a flight of stairs.
Griner said she left the injured child alive and alone in his stroller on a Bridgeton street “because she wanted someone to find him and help him because no one would believe her,” police noted in their report.
In addition to murder, the grand jury indicted Griner on charges of disturbing or desecrating human remains (second-degree), tampering with evidence (fourth-degree), endangering the welfare of a child (second-degree) and false public alarm (second-degree).
Public defender Kimberly Schultz argued in July that Griner may not be competent enough to assist in her own defense and Superior Court Judge Robert Malestein delayed her post-indictment arraignment and ordered a competency evaluation.
Malestein noted Monday that the competency evaluation was received last week, which cleared the way for the arraignment.
“The doctor that evaluated her indicated that she was fit to proceed, which is a minimal standard,” the judge said. “She knows the nature of the proceedings and the roles of the respective parties in the courtroom.”
Griner stood quietly next to her attorney during the hearing and did not address the court.
Schultz has stated that her client previously sought help for mental health issues and that she was suffering from postpartum psychosis at the time of Daniel’s death.
“I believe that the chain of events that transpired support that,” Schultz told the court in February.
The attorney said Monday that she’s seeking an expert evaluation of her client.
“I believe that there was something more happening here and the more I delve into discovery, the more I believe that to be true,” she said.
Schultz is also seeking her client’s records from the state Department of Child Protection and Permanency, which served her when she was a juvenile.
Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Vogelsong stated previously that recordings of phone calls Griner made from jail in which she can be heard discussing her defense strategy are proof that she understands her situation.
Schultz has also argued that both Griner and her husband, Daniel Griner Sr., had access to the child during the period in which he was killed.
The defense attorney said prosecutors were too quick to charge the mother and noted that Daniel Griner Sr. told prosecutors in March that he struck the boy with a belt at least four times in the days prior to the child’s death. He was not charged.
Prosecutors responded that this was a single incident in which Griner Sr. admitted striking the child four times.
Vogelsong said the father was investigated and video evidence shows he was at work for his entire 12-hour shift as a registered nurse at hospital during the period when investigators believe Daniel died.
“Nothing in our investigation has shown that Mr. Griner Sr. was involved in the death of the child. Absolutely nothing,” Vogelsong said in May.
When police arrived at the Griner home hours after Daniel was reported missing, they found windows open, fans running and an officer noticed a burning odor, according to court documents. Burned and dismembered human remains were found in a handbag and in trash bags under a shed.
Schultz said Monday that she intends to file a motion barring admission of any statements Griner made to police before a lawyer was assigned to her case. Griner was interviewed and charged over a weekend and Schultz wasn’t assigned to the case until the following Tuesday, the attorney said.
“My client asked for a lawyer the minute she sat down with police, so I believe that there is a Miranda issue here and I’ll appropriately file that,” Schultz told the judge.
The case will return to court Nov. 18.