When he got out of prison, the colonel had little--other than the park land he had donated to the city in 1896--to tie him to Los Angeles. Most people around town still hated him and most of the others thought he was crazy. He was divorced. His only child was independent. And he was still rich.
But he returned to Los Angeles and stayed for the remaining 13 years of his life. Sources say he was quieter and less pompous. He lectured on prison reform, advocating rehabilitation over punishment. And he persistently worked at improving his park.In 1912 he offered the city $100,000 to build a popular observatory atop Mt. Hollywood (Formerly Mt. Griffith, it had been renamed while he was in prison.). In his letter to the mayor and city council, the colonel waxed expansively about opening up the heavens to the common people, inspiring, educating and uplifting them. "Ambition," he wrote, "must have broad spaces and mighty distances."
If someone else had made the offer, the city might have jumped at it. But, as things stood, the city council jumped the other way, flatly refusing the money. Wrote one prominent citizen in a letter published on the front page of a local newspaper:On behalf of the rising generation of girls and boys we protest against the acceptance of this bribe . . . This community is neither so poor nor so lost to sense of public decency that it can afford to accept this money.The colonel, however, pressed on. In 1913 he offered $50,000 to build a Greek Theater. That project also ground to a standstill. At one point the Park Commission brought suit to force the colonel to stop preparations for construction. The colonel responded by setting up a trust fund to provide money for building the two facilities he had promised after he was goneThe shooting left Christina Griffith disfigured and blind in one eye. Some observers say the colonel was lucky he wasn't lynched. His trial was spectacular and ghastly. Special prosecutors, led by an ex-governor, were called in. The defense was based around a novel idea: alcoholic insanity. Earl Rogers, the colonel's attorney, argued that heavy and steady consumption of alcohol had transformed religious friction in the Griffiths' marriage--he was Protestant, she was Catholic, and they were both devout--into weird murderous delusions.The defense worked. Col. Griffith was sentenced to two years in prison, with the stipulation that he be treated for his alcoholic insanity.Whatever it was that snapped in the colonel in 1903 apparently snapped back while he was in prison. From his cell at San Quentin, he asked that he not be given any special treatment. He passed up an opportunity to work in the prison library; instead, he made burlap sacks in the jute mill alongside humbler prisoners. He refused parole as well. One of his few remaining friends, a judge, said the colonel wanted to pay his debt to society as fully as possible