In late December 2009 I posted about an Indiana University professor, Don Belton, who 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.