Alex Blaze

Man who Killed Professor Don Belton Convicted of Murder

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 16, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: don belton, gay panic, indiana, indiana university, iu, Michael Griffin, murder, prosecution

In late December 2009 I posted about an Indiana University professor, Don Belton, belton.jpegwho was killed by a Marine, Michael Griffin. The trial was this week and the jury returned a conviction of murder, which carries a 45 to 65 year sentence.

Belton was black, gay, and middle-aged; Griffin is white, straight, and young. As I posted in 2009, Griffin's defense was that he was sexually assaulted on Christmas went to confront Belton and ended up stabbing him 22 times. Griffin's defense was "sudden heat," but not because of the alleged sexual assault (since two days later isn't "sudden") but because Griffin says Belton put his hand on him and that was a sign of aggression. The goal of the defense was to reduce the charge to voluntary manslaughter, not to set Griffin free.

According to a group of people who attended the trial and blogged about it, his attorney closed with "The [Marines] training just kicks in. You just react. That's what happened Dec 27. And that's what Michael is trying to tell you." If anything, that sounds to me like a great argument to lock Griffin up - if he really is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off and stab people then he shouldn't be free.

There were several holes in the story about the alleged sexual assault that happened on Christmas. First, Griffin himself didn't remember it. He couldn't describe it or say much of anything about it; he said he heard about it through his girlfriend. She claims she was blacking out drunk that night as was Griffin, which is why he couldn't consent.

Let's be clear: Michael Griffin on the stand is not claiming to remember being assaulted at all. In fact he is claiming the opposite. "I felt drugged," he essentially told the jury today, indirectly introducing yet another Don-as-predator possibility--Don the bartender of the evening who had control of the cocktails, we were reminded again and again without any specific accusation, just a planted seed. Then, a couple days later, the same amnesia, exactly at the most important moments, again. One minute he is arguing with Don, the next moment he realizes Don is on the ground in a pool of blood. Again, an indirect nod to PTSD, though they can't actually come out and say it.

The defense probably couldn't find a doctor willing to diagnose Griffin with PTSD so they were hoping people had seen enough war movies to fill in the blanks themselves.

But Belton wasn't on trial for rape, and the defense had to show that there was sudden heat when Griffin stabbed Belton two days later. Again, there were holes. Griffin packed from home the knife he used to kill Griffin. The prosecutor said it was unlikely that a push could send someone into a murderous rage. After he left Belton's house, Griffin called Belton's phone and left a message so that police would think he wasn't anywhere near the crime scene at the time. Griffin claims he can't remember stabbing Belton.

From reading the notes of the people who went to the trial, it sounds like the defense put on a very half-assed gay panic defense, arguing that Griffin was a Marine who saw Belton as a (black, gay, older) aggressor and that he went into autopilot because of his Marine training. Perhaps there is a jury out there willing to buy that, but not this one.

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As a former member of the military, having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and RTS I can say that people have ‘set me off’ and I have reacted violently. But almost every time, the stimulus was being forcibly grabbed in such a manner as to be considered a sexual assault and the reaction was instant….and yes, violent. I did break bones and even sent someone to the hospital once with a head injury (non-serious, just a pre-cautionary over night stay). Honestly, if you asked me ‘do you remember it’ I can say yes…and no. Because of the PTSD and RTS, uh, well…certain things cause my psyche to disassociate and those memories are really weird. There have been other incidents in a similar vein that have set off a disassociated episode that did last for days. (I actually broke my hand during that time, accident)

I know that the majority of those service members who have PTSD (and even RTS) are not diagnosed, hell most still haven’t admitted to having any issues that require mental health care. When they do seek care within the military its gotten way better (they’re even sending Trans service members out to civilian care now whooHOO!). But for veterans, they have to slog thru the VA back log which is effing ludicrous.

Am I saying Griffin is innocent?
No.

Because with all of that military training comes something called ‘Use of Deadly Force Doctrine’. I know. I was assigned to a Marine detachment and over 6 weeks of Marine training we were made to learn it to the point where we had to recite it at 3am and even backwards while running 5k. So, citing PTSD can lower that threshold of not acting is true, BUT you act in the moment and not days later. Citing Marine training as ‘automatic’ is true, BUT that same training says that the use of Deadly Force in this instance is not allowed.

I do hope Griffin does get a thorough evaluation for PTSD. It may be too late for Belton, but it could save another from a ‘loose cannon’ in the future. …and I say that because I’m sure that they’ve already filed an appeal and it is possible that Griffin could be set free.

Thanks for your perspective, Gina.

It's good to hear about the plausibility of his defense regarding PTSD, especially because, as you point out, it's in the moment, not days later.

I think the most damning point to me is that he packed the knife with him. I don't know about military vets (maybe you can provide some clarity), but most people don't pack a combat knife with them when they go to talk with someone.

"If he really is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off and stab people then he shouldn't be free."

Well said.

Alex and Bil, I really don't understand such talk -- this time bomb obviously has already gone off.