Griffith sentenced for role in killing

Co-conspirator gets 15-30 years in 2013 shooting of Steven Hackney

Deputies escort Taylor Griffith out of a sentencing hearing on Thursday morning at the Blair County Courthouse. Photo for the Mirror by Isaac Ritchey

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A Hollidaysburg area woman will be incarcerated 15 to 30 years for her role and actions leading up to the 2013 shooting death of Steven L. Hackney inside his Altoona residence.

Taylor A. Griffith, 29, who testified against Kashif Omar Ellis, her former boyfriend and drug-trafficking partner now serving life in prison for killing Hackney, apologized in court Thursday to Hackney’s family and to her own family.

“Some days, I wish I could trade places with Steven,” Griffith said while using a handcuffed hand to wipe away tears.

Standing before President Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle, Griffith rendered guilty pleas to third-degree homicide, criminal conspiracy to commit robbery and to robbery.

The pending submission of those pleas, as revealed two years ago during a court hearing for Ellis and co-defendant Qasim L. Shariff Green, has kept Griffith’s criminal charges on hold.

Ellis, meanwhile, was found guilty of first-, second- and third-degree homicide in February, then sentenced in April. Green was to be on trial with Ellis but entered a guilty plea to third-degree murder in exchange for a sentence with 10 to 25 years’ incarceration.

Based on trial testimony, Ellis, Griffith and Green went to Hackney’s residence at 124 Walnut Ave. in the early morning hours of July 13, 2013, for what Griffith thought was going to be a robbery of cash and drugs.

Griffith, who knew Hackney as a patron at a club where she danced, got him to let her into his residence. Then she unlocked a rear door and sent a text message to Ellis, giving him clearance to enter, and she went upstairs. She was on the second floor when Ellis confronted Hackney and started firing at him. One of the bullets went through Hackney’s aorta, causing the 37-year-old man to die at the residence.

“If I would have known what Kashif was going to do that night, I would have made different choices,” Griffith said Thursday.

Hackney’s family members, who spoke at Ellis’ sentencing in April, also attended Griffith’s sentencing hearing and addressed the aftermath of losing their loved one.

Seventeen-year-old Quiana Hackney said her father won’t be at her high school graduation next year.

“You deserve life because that’s what you took,” the teenager said.

Quiana’s mother, Rose Ruiz of Erie, said she doesn’t forgive Griffith.

“You helped put the shooter away,” Ruiz acknowledged. “But Taylor, you were the main one. You had every chance to alert Steven as to what was going to happen. … You’re just as guilty.”

Trial testimony revealed that at the time of the shooting, Griffith and Ellis were living together at the Cedar Grove Motel, making regular trips out of town to get illegal drugs that they would sell in the Altoona area.

“Six years ago, I was a lost soul,” Griffith said in court on her own behalf. “Today, I’m not that same person.”

“She is a changed person,” said defense attorney Mark Zearfaus who represented Griffith and advised the court that his client understood her actions.

Griffith, who has spent two years in the Cambria County Prison and will now be transferred to a state prison, has been attending church services and assisting with inmate literacy programs.

“We’re encouraged by the changes that Taylor has made,” her mother, Blair County Prothonotary Robin Patton said as she read from a statement indicating that she was speaking as “Taylor’s mom” and on behalf of “Taylor’s sisters and friends.”

Patton described the day as difficult and offered apologies from her family to the Hackney family sitting on the other side of the courtroom.

“We’re not here to make excuses for Taylor’s actions,” Patton said.

Griffith also apologized to her own family and said her actions were not a reflection of how she was raised. In the future, Griffith said she would like to help young girls avoid making the mistakes she made.

First Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks described Griffith’s testimony as an important part of the prosecutions against Ellis and Green. If she hadn’t testified, Weeks said he would have still prosecuted her along with her co-defendants. All three cases were ready, Weeks said, with the filing of charges by Altoona police Lt. Ashley Day and Lt. Benjamin Jones.

Doyle acknowledged that she had the option of rejecting the negotiated plea but wouldn’t.

She said she observed Griffith’s remorse and recognized her testimony against Ellis.

The judge also recognized the Hackney family’s loss.

“I hope the love that Steven had for you will live on,” the judge said.

Weeks said this case and crime underscores the danger of drug trafficking and its reach.

“It cost (Steven Hackney) his life,” Weeks said. “But it profoundly affected Taylor Griffith’s family and Steven Hackney’s family members. And neither of those families played a role in this.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.