Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Slain Gay Professor’s Friends Denounce ‘Gay Panic Defense’ As Ploy

Prof. Don Belton, Michael Griffin

Bloomington, IN – Hundreds of Bloomington residents braved the cold to attend a vigil honoring the memory of IUB Prof. Don Belton Friday evening at the Monroe County Courthouse.  Friends, colleagues, students, and other citizens stood in silent tribute to the beloved teacher and author who was found dead from multiple stab wounds in his kitchen on December 27.  Speakers denounced the account being circulated in the media that Belton was murdered as retaliation for sexual assault, saying that such a tactic only enflames homophobia and racism, besmirching the reputation of the good and decent man Belton actually was.  A website, Justice for Don Belton, has been launched on the internet to refute the allegations of confessed murderer Michael Griffin, who told police after his arrest that he stabbed the professor to death at his Bloomington home with a military knife because Belton would not “apologize” for their sexual contact at a Christmas party.  The Probable Cause Affidavit may be read in its entirety here. Griffin, who is being held without bail, has pled not guilty to the charge of felony murder.  The creators of the website label Griffin’s confession as a version of the “gay panic defense” which is crassly deployed “to get charges reduced or to win over a jury when the victim was a gay person.”  The post goes on to say, “This is a tactic that has had some success over the years but is increasingly being recognized for what it is: a defense that plays to societal bias and prejudice and is not a justifiable excuse for murder.”  Supporters of Prof. Belton are calling on the Bloomington Police and the District Attorney “to reject any notion that Griffin’s claim of sexual assault weakens their case for murder.”  Another error the site combats is the media notion that Prof. Belton knew ex-Marine Griffin briefly, in a sort of sexually opportunistic way.  In fact, http://www.justicefordonbelton.com argues, Griffin was well-known by the IU English faculty, for whom he and his girlfriend cut grass and did other handyman jobs.  Griffin spoke on more than one occasion with Prof. Belton’s colleagues about how much he and his girlfriend liked the gifted teacher and about their growing friendship.  Griffin’s girlfriend made the call to police that led to her lover’s arrest for the murder.  Robb Stone, writing for the website, concludes, “Reporting or providing sound bites that ‘an incident occurred’ between the men on Christmas Day is not responsible journalism. Don is not here to tell his story. The media needs to be aware that how they report on this story is critical to ensuring that justice is done.  This is not the sensationalized story of a man who had a chance encounter with a random person. This is the story of a promising writer with many friends who was unfortunately betrayed by one of them.”

January 2, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, gay men, gay panic defense, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Indiana, Law and Order, Media Issues, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, stabbings, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Slain Gay Professor’s Friends Denounce ‘Gay Panic Defense’ As Ploy

Gay IUB Professor Stabbed To Death In His Home: Confessed Killer Uses Gay Panic Defense

Griffin (L) and Belton (R), AP photo

Bloomington, IN – Professor Don Belton, 53, a gifted writer and author in the Creative Writing MFA Program at Indiana University-Bloomington, was found murdered in his home on Sunday, December 27.  His body had been stabbed repeatedly in the back and in the side.  A suspect who confessed to the murder has been arrested and charged with murder: Michael Griffin, a 25 year old white Marine who had recently been deployed in Iraq.  Griffin is being held without bail at the Monroe County Jail in Bloomington. Prof. Belton reportedly considered Griffin to be a friend.  According to sources in the university community, Griffin is using a version of the “gay panic defense” to justify his actions.  The suspect alleges that Prof. Belton sexually assaulted  him twice on Christmas Day, and “refused to apologize for it,” according to ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. A faculty source says this is most unlikely.  “We deplore the cowardice of such a claim in the face of the open-heartedness of such a man as Don,” the faculty colleague said.  The Indiana University News Room issued this statement from Provost of the University, Dr. Karen Hanson: “Assistant Professor Don Belton was an important African-American writer specializing in fiction and nonfiction who began teaching at IU Bloomington in fall 2008,” said Provost Karen Hanson. “He was a generous and talented professor who had much potential. We were shocked and saddened by his death.”  The case was cracked when investigators located a note on a 4″x6″ card beside Prof. Belton’s home computer addressed to a person named “Griffin” containing an e-mail address, a phone number, and  directions to the Belton home.  Police worked with officers in Batesville, IN, who informed the Bloomington PD that a girlfriend of Griffin’s had phoned in to say she believed her lover was involved in the murder.  The arrest was made at Griffin’s home, where he lived with his 2-year-old son.  Griffin confessed that he had gone to Belton’s home in his girlfriend’s pickup truck to confront him about the alleged sexual incidents.  When Belton showed no remorse and offered no apology, Griffin said he stabbed Belton “until he quit moving.”  He then stripped from his bloody clothes in the truck, apparently having taken a change of clothes with him.  Griffin said he put the bloody clothes in a plastic trash bag, and threw them in a dumpster.  The knife believed to be the murder weapon, a ten-inch blade issued by the military called a “Peace-keeper,” was found at Griffin’s residence.   A personal journal was discovered at the crime scene with an entry by Prof. Belton indicating that he was grateful that “Michael” had come into his life.  Bloomington police have not made a determination about whether any alleged sexual activity between the two men was consensual or not, but are dealing with the murder as a “crime of anger or passion.”  Though decisively discredited as a courtroom tactic, the “gay panic defense” is often used by killers to explain or defend their lethal actions.  Until confirmation from other sources can be determined, allegations of “sexual assault” need to be treated with suspicion, since the only source claiming such harassment is the suspect in question.  The victim is unable to defend himself against the charge.  Besmirching the character of a deceased gay person is routinely part of the so-called defense, often an attempt to tap into the cultural or religious prejudice against gay men in a community, thereby winning sympathy for the killer.  The interjection of a child and a girlfriend into the news stories also tends to win sympathy for the suspect who may have been essentially heterosexual and then “wandered a bit.”   Prof. Belton was a noted writer, the author of the acclaimed novel, Almost Midnight, and the editor of Speak My Name, an anthology of essays exploring the disparity between real and imagined representations of black male sexuality, according to his faculty web page at IUB.  IU English Department chairman Jonathan Elmer said of his person and his work, “His great talents as a writer, his extraordinary generosity to his students, and his warmth of personality were gifts to us all. We will miss him terribly,” as reported in The Indiana Daily Student.  A community vigil honoring Prof. Belton was held Friday night, January 1 at the Monroe County Courthouse.


January 2, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, gay men, gay panic defense, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Indiana, Law and Order, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, stabbings, U.S. Marines, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay IUB Professor Stabbed To Death In His Home: Confessed Killer Uses Gay Panic Defense

Christmas Murder of Gay Man in Louisiana Still Unresolved

Houma, LA –  Early on Christmas morning, Robert LeCompte, 39, was found stabbed to death in a prominent gay and lesbian night club he managed.  His body was riddled with stab wounds, suggesting the possibility of a hate crime.  $4,700 was reported missing by the club’s owner, Randall Chesnut, with whom LeCompte lived.  Terrebone Parish law enforcement officers are working to develop clues in the case. When LeCompte did not come home as expected, Chesnut called the police, leading to their discovery of the gay man’s blood-soaked corpse lying in the middle of the dance floor of the Drama Club on Hollywood Road.  Chesnut spoke kind words about his employee to reporters from the Tri-Parish Times: “He had no enemies,” Chesnut said. “The boy was loved by everyone. He wasn’t but 5-foot, 2 (inches), and soaking wet he didn’t weigh but 120 pounds. I’ve probably just lost one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and the best employee, too.”  Initially, the missing money led the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office to communicate to the media that this was a robbery only.  But Chesnut, himself a former detective, is not persuaded.  “I would believe motivation would be definitely robbery, but when you start stabbing the body multiple times, that’s a crime of passion. I’m not ruling out the fact that it could be a hate crime. Whoever killed him was very angry, as far as the police are concerned.”   Major  Malcolm Wolfe, spokesman for the sheriff’s department, said that no strong leads exist in the case yet.  He indicated that sheriff’s officers were working night and day to crack the case.  According to Chesnut, the LeCompte family is unable to finance their relative’s funeral and burial by themselves, so members of the gay and lesbian community have stepped up to the challenge, and donations are coming in.  He told Tri-Parish Times reporter Brett Schweinburg, “The gay community, I’m so proud of them. They’ve stepped up, and they’re pissed. They’re not scared. He has lit a fire in this community,” said Chesnut. “Most of the people in this community, they fear the law or they fear this, but it’s taken the opposite effect. There’s a determination here.”  A vigil for LeCompte was held on Christmas Day at the Drama Club, with over 150 people attending.  Vigils and fund-raisers are planned in Houma, Baton Rouge,and New Orleans with a memorial at the Drama Club set for Saturday, January 2, 2010.  One of the saddest ironies of this possible anti-LGBT hate crime murder is that Christmas Day was his birthday.

January 2, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, gay men, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Lesbian women, Louisiana, Remembrances, stabbings, Unsolved LGBT Crimes, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments


%d bloggers like this: