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James Grigson: Expert psychiatric witness was nicknamed Dr. Death

Dallas Morning News, June 14, 2004

Dr. James Grigson practiced psychiatry for nearly 45 years, but he gained notoriety as an expert witness in more than 150 capital murder trials.

His testimony about defendants' potential threat to society, along with his support of the death penalty, earned him the nickname Dr. Death.

Dr. Grigson said last year that his job as a forensic psychiatrist "was to try to find the ones who were mentally ill and needed to go to the hospital and those that were faking it who needed to go to prison."

Dr. Grigson, 72, died June 3 of lung cancer. He was born Jan. 30, 1932, in Texarkana, Texas. The family had a private burial.

He got his start in the medical field working in emergency rooms and delivering more than 300 babies. He attended junior college and Texas A&M University, followed by 4 years at Southwestern Medical School. He also taught psychiatry at the school.

"He just loved the challenge," said his daughter, Vicky Ready of Flower Mound. "Everyone was so different."

When Dr. Grigson wasn't in the courtroom or the office, his children said, he was at home, being a father who loved simple things such as tossing a fishing line into a bucket or an old tire.

"We'd all get in the back yard and practice casting," Mrs. Ready said. "He was a great dad. He was a lot of fun."

His son James Lee Grigson of Midland said that during high school, he and his father would go fishing at Lake Texoma nearly every weekend. He said Dr. Grigson enjoyed reading as much as possible and also learning about the ever-changing psychiatry field.

"He was a book-a-day kind of guy," Mr. Grigson said. "It was a good way to unwind after a tough day."

Mr. Grigson said his father enjoyed the work he did, even though it was often stressful talking with men and women who had beaten and murdered others. He testified in 167 trials, mainly in the 1980s and 1990s.

Critics say it's impossible to predict what a defendant will do in the future, but Dr. Grigson said he testified to what he observed. Dr. Grigson was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association in 1995 for predicting a person's potential threat to society without interviewing the person.

Although he gave up testifying in death-penalty cases, he continued to work on civil cases and mental-competency reviews.

A lawyer he met in the late 1960s, Doug Mulder, said Dr. Grigson didn't testify for the money, and although he testified mainly for the prosecution, he testified on behalf of the defense, too.

"I just think he was very convincing," said Mr. Mulder, of Douglas D. Mulder Inc. of Dallas. "I think he was a very honest expert witness. He was not for sale."

Personally, Mr. Mulder said, Dr. Grigson was a fun person who was often the life of a party. Mr. Mulder and Jim Hartnett Jr. threw him a retirement party in December.

"He was a very bright guy," Mr. Mulder said. "He was very down to earth."

Mr. Grigson said that despite the controversial nature of his father's work, Dr. Grigson was only working to help society.

"Dad was worried about the people who were going to become victims if you don't get these people off the streets," he said. "Because he saw so many, he could identify."

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