Michael Grotton couldn’t believe it when he learned a production crew from CBS was planning to do another true crime show on the 1983 murder for hire of his dad, Mervin “Sonny” Grotton.
It would be the third time a television station has aired a program on his father’s death in the 15 years since his mother, Norma Grotton Small, and two other people were indicted for his murder. Small was found guilty in August of 2002, but Boyd Smith, who testified that he had connected the woman with a hitman, and Joel Fuller, who was accused of pulling the trigger, were found not guilty on the murder charge.
“It’s a cosmic joke,” Michael Grotton, now 49 and living in Dallas, said recently. “This thing comes up every 15 years. My dad wasn’t an international superstar or politician. Why this case? I haven’t seen a lot of true crime that really portrays the crime in a true life way. And for people who are trying to move on, it’s unfair in a big way.”
When asked why CBS was interested in the case all these years later, Alec Sirken, a producer for “48 Hours,” said the network is creating a series that will feature real cases solved by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS. He told the BDN the production team’s reporting “turned up a twist” that may shed doubt on some of the facts that people have believed for the past 15 years. That twist likely has to do with the potential that Fuller, a legendary Waldo County criminal serving two life sentences for drug-related homicides, is telling the truth when he maintains he did not shoot Sonny Grotton.
But Michael Grotton said he doesn’t buy it.
“He was a very narcissistic, arrogant guy,” he said of Fuller. “I grew up in Belfast. I knew who this guy was. I don’t think that killing my father fits his self-image. I have no difficulty believing he would continue to deny this crime to maintain the image he has of being an organized crime guy who was the enforcer, the killer of rats.”
Grotton had just turned 16 when his father was murdered, but the years have not faded the memories of his dad, a Navy chief petty officer who remains an important, positive influence in his life.
“The contrast between him and my mother is just amazing. They couldn’t be any more different,” Grotton said. “He was a morally focused person who believed in the American dream, and that’s what he was focused on. My mother, on the other hand, was always running a con. She was very unfaithful. It made a very unstable home life for us. There were always these kind of dueling parental influences at play. I’ve always said that if my dad wasn’t as morally strong as he was, I don’t know where us kids would have ended up in this life.”
Grotton described his father as a “very geeky” guy who loved gadgets, was very intelligent and believed you had to put in effort before you could be good at something. Norma Small and Sonny Grotton married young and had suffered a tragedy in 1959, when their three children — a 4-year-old, 2-year-old and 7-month-old — perished in a house fire. Michael and his two sisters came along later.
Nevertheless, Sonny Grotton, a high school dropout, did not get lost in grief but worked hard to make a career in the Navy.
“He was the type of guy who felt that anything could be fixed, even that marriage,” Grotton said. “Our lives are parallel. We went through tragedies very young. We’re both very intensely focused on family and on providing a moral example. I learned to be a man and a father from my father.”
Grotton said he has to work to remember his father as his father, not as the man lying dead on the front lawn. This latest true crime depiction of Sonny Grotton’s homicide investigation won’t help, and although the producers wanted him to come back to Belfast to be interviewed for the show, he turned them down.
“The most painful parts are brought back into focus,” he said. “Now the show is going to put all the focus back on the murder or the crime. It’s more important to me to remember who my father was before that.”