remembering a writer and friend
Below are the impressions of someone who attended a portion of Tuesday’s hearing (but who wishes to remain anonymous). The “girlfriend” testimony referred to below is that of Jessa [last name redacted]. Michael’s sister is named “Rita.”
I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours today at the first day of testimony in Don Belton’s murder trial. I’m not particularly proficient with blogging as a means of communication, but several people have asked for updates, so I’m going to give it a shot. I also tweeted from the trial, but I was reacting really strongly to what I was hearing, so that’s much more reactive than it is informational.
I wasn’t able to go to the opening statements because I had class, but as I understand others’ reports this is the general gist of the defense: the defendant (Michael Griffin) is not contesting that he stabbed Don Belton in a manner that resulted in his death, but is asking for a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter because the stabbing occurred during an argument over an (allegedly non-consensual) sexual encounter. During the hours I was able to be there, we heard testimony from Griffin’s girlfriend and his sister.
The defense used his girlfriend’s testimony to try to establish several facts:
1.) On the night that the sexual encounter in question occurred, both Griffin and his girlfriend were extremely intoxicated, while Don Belton was not. A lot of time was spent discussing how he claimed to be drunk, but no one remembers seeing him drink anything after like 5:30. (Forget the fact that if they were both as wasted as they claimed, then their memories of exactly what Don was doing are probably not reliable…)
2.) Griffin never tried to stop the sexual encounter at any point, but he was too drunk to give consent. There was much confusion about whether or not his girlfriend was involved at any point, but if she had been, she was too drunk to give consent as well. She kept arguing that even though she didn’t remember, she didn’t think she was- she said that Don wouldn’t have been interested in her because she “wasn’t a homosexual man.” (This portion of the testimony raised some really interesting questions about alcohol and consent… how does consent function when all parties involved are under the influence? Or, in this case, when one party is no longer alive to speak to his experience of the event…)
3.) Griffin is a kind, gentle, loving man, who has never displayed any violent tendencies. (the prosecutor was VERY CAREFUL to steer clear of any potential link between Griffin’s status as a veteran and his potential for violence, so this line of testimony was left as-is for the most part)
4.) Griffin always carried multiple knives on his person, including several different kinds of pocket knives and a “long one that sits in the leg of his pants.”
I actually thought that for the most part, the defense lawyer was trying pretty hard to steer clear of anything that might look too much like gay bashing. However, during some of the girlfriend’s testimony, her contempt was palpable. She spat out the words “homosexual” and “transvestite” like they were poison, and got extremely defensive when asked about her own sexuality. She clung very strongly to a heterosexual identity, and claimed to have “curiosity” or “bisexual experiences” but [insisted] that she was not bisexual. At one point the court stopped for like 15 minutes while the lawyers argued about whether or not she could be questioned further about her sexual orientation/experiences, and they finally settled on asking her a yes or no question about whether she and Griffin had ever had a threesome. She was clearly very uncomfortable talking about her sexuality, and at one point even said that she was really embarrassed to admit publicly that she had sex with women in the past.
The sister’s testimony basically corroborated those four points from the girlfriend’s testimony. She also talked about running into Michael on the day he stabbed Don, and talked about how freaked out and anxious he was.
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They are laying the groundwork for the gay panic defense. This makes me angry, scared, and sick to my stomach. Seriously. It is 2011, and this kind of bullshit is still admissible in court?! I actually don’t know a whole ton about consent laws in Indiana, but I would love to hear from somebody who does. I know that in most states alcohol removes your ability to give consent, but how does that work if all parties involved are drinking (they can’t prove that Don wasn’t)? Is this “I didn’t say no but I was too drunk to say yes” line of defense even viable? Or even if it would be viable for a rape case, surely SURELY this can’t be a justification for murder?! I don’t know. I want to say smart, analytical things about this; but I’m still really worked up. I am going to try to go back to the trial late tomorrow morning, so if people are interested in another update I will post one then.