remembering a writer and friend
“Sometimes death means death.” These are the words Michael Griffin spoke to his girlfriend Jessa after he killed Don Belton, and they are the words Prosecutor Darcie Winkle used to open her closing arguments at the end of the trial.
Griffin was referring to the tarot card reading he gave Don on Christmas Day 2009, when he pulled the ‘death’ card and Belton became concerned. Griffin said he tried to re-assure Don that the cards aren’t always literal, that the death card can mean change or transformation. Two days later he would enter Don Belton’s home and stab him repeatedly.
Today the state presented its case for why it had proven murder beyond a reasonable doubt. It then went on to talk about why it had successfully *disproven* beyond a reasonable doubt that there were mitigating ‘sudden heat’ factors to lessen the conviction from murder to manslaughter.
The state’s evidence:
For ‘murder’, the state had to prove–
1) Michael Griffin
4) Donald Belton
The above really weren’t all that difficult. Michael himself testified it was him, autopsy and friends positively identified Don, and Don’s DNA is on Michael Griffin’s knife.
The state did spend some time talking about the “knowingly” part of the crime, during which it also tried to emphasize the amount of time Griffin had to think about everything before he went over to Belton’s house.
Use your common sense, said prosecutor Darcie Winkle. Have you ever done something repetitively 22 times and not known it? Autopsy shows that there were 22 stab wounds, 4 of which independently would have been fatal. Many of the wounds appeared to be directed at key places on the body to cause death. One chest wound by the artery shows that the knife was plunged in, *twisted*, and pulled back out. There was an attempt at slashing his throat. And there was a wound to the back of the liver. Michael Griffin stabbed Don in the back.
She noted that Griffin deliberately selected this large knife before leaving his house, was trained in how to use it, and was stronger than Don–he didn’t even need it should a physical confrontation arise. When he got to Belton’s house he deliberately parked blocks away near an alley on a street that had plenty of off-street parking, to go to a house that had a driveway. He was not going there just to talk.
When he arrived, Griffin testified, Don smiled at him. Invited him in. Asked how he was doing. Got him a glass of water. Griffin followed Don to the kitchen, where the stabbings began.After the killing, Griffin wiped his knife on Don’s pants, threw his clothes away, returned some videos, got some water at Bloomingfoods, thought about how to cover up what he’d done, decided to leave a voice mail message for Don so that the police wouldn’t think it was him. Winkle said all of this points to Griffin knowing what he was doing.
Let’s also walk through the details, she said. Why is it that Michael Griffin remembers every little detail before and after the alleged sexual assault and subsequent killing, but nothing about the events themselves?
Michael himself does not claim to remember any kind of sex with Don Belton or any assault, Winkle reminded the jury. “Now he says (the allegation) is because of what (his girlfriend) Jessa was saying,” said Winkle. And by her own testimony she was the most intoxicated of them all.
Using a PowerPoint presentation based on Griffin’s testimony (and some police interviews, which defense successfully objected to), Winkle showed that, before the alleged sexual assault on Dec 25th, Michael remembers:
*he was not drunk at dinner
*he played ‘Apples to Apples’–a game that requires intellectual engagement–and did quite well at it
*he did a Tarot card reading for Don
*he remembers how much Don was drinking
*remembers where Don was sitting
*remembers what everyone was wearing
..and suddenly, doesn’t remember anything that happened shortly after that.
After the alleged assault, Michael remembers having coffee with Don, he remembers his girlfriend dropping Don at home, and then he remembers having sex with his girlfriend 5 times. Winkle noted that he never called the police or reported the assault or sought medical attention. He washed the sheets where the alleged assault took place, thereby destroying any possible evidence. He remembers telling his sister about the assault, although his sister testified that he didn’t.
Winkle’s next slide showed that Before the murder on Dec 27th, Michael remembers:
*parking the car
*Don taking a phone call
*being offered water
*what they talked about
*he remembers being pushed
*he remembers pulling the knife
*he remembers the exact hand with which Don tried to grab the knife
then–Nothing. Winkle’s “Murder” slide was blank, trying to demonstrate that it was a little too convenient to suddenly forget everything. Then, “Poof,” said Winkle, “the minute he leaves Don’s house he gets his memory back.”
Directly after the murder, Griffin remembers:
*cleaning his knife on Don’s pants
*etc etc etc
To address “sudden heat” specifically the state emphasized that too much time had passed between the alleged assault and the confrontation for sudden heat to be related to the events of Dec 25. The ‘sudden heat’ should be judged, Winkle said, based upon the events of Dec 27.
Sudden Heat is defined as a mental state sufficent to obscure the judgment of an ‘ordinary person’ that would render the defendant incapable of ‘cool reflection’ prior to acting.
“[Griffin] told you he took that time,” Winkle reminded jurors. In the days after the alleged assault, he got to go on a scenic drive. He had breakfast. He met up with friends. He went for a hike with his dog. “He told you he took time to process it,” said Winkle. “He told you he didn’t want to do anything rash.”
Then, said Winkle, *he* decided to seek Don out. He knew Don was going to Hawaii–he didn’t have to see him if he didn’t want to. He thought about what knife to bring. He told Jessa not to come with him. He went to the house angry.
Griffin was also trained to use that knife against insurgents and trained to react calmly in all kinds of volatile situations, said Winkle. She told jurors she was certain that insurgents in Iraq would have attempted to agitate him and fight back, and yet he left that war without harming anyone. And if he had really not meant to stab Don 22 times, she said, why didn’t he call 911 upon realizing what he had done?
If the ‘sudden heat’ was provoked by Don pushing Michael on Dec 27, said Winkle, is that really how it works? I push you, you push me, “and now I get to stab you 22 times?”
The state did not get into previous testimony about Michael and Jessa’s sexual threesomes and the like. The idea was not to disprove any rape allegation but to stick to the legal case for murder.
* * * * *
After a very strong defense presentation yesterday with an emotional, likeable Michael Griffin on the stand, Defense closing arguments today did not go so well. There was perhaps a useful reminder that the jury gets to determine the facts and the law in the case according to the instructions given. Some of the closing sought to simply insult people. There was the final swipe at Don Belton. There was what appeared to be an attempt to appeal to any possible ‘town vs. gown’ divides in the jury, with an initial comment from Collins that he did not have ‘all the fancy electronic stuff’ (a screen and slideshow) that the prosecution did, followed by a mockery of the autopsy doctor’s credentials, who ‘probably didn’t think of himself as an ordinary person,’ but who would definitely claim to be an ordinary person if he were faced with what Griffin faced.
Some of the closing said it didn’t make sense for the prosecution to ask jurors to believe only some of the things Griffin said. Collins said Griffin voluntarily offered info about the crime that “he didn’t have to tell anybody”–and we are supposed to believe that, but not believe what he said happened on Dec 25 or Dec 27.
To support heat of passion, Collins pointed to the number of times Belton was stabbed. “22 times—Gee, could that invoke any thoughts of anger, passion, or rage?”
Collins also said that if this were a woman claiming sexual assault we would never be having a murder trial.
Then Collins attempted to tell a personal story of when he was in the Marines. The prosecution objected, and they sidebarred outside the courtroom. Clearly flustered, Collins never got to tell his story but he did say this: He knows where Griffin is coming from, and when you’re in a situation like he was in with Don Belton on Dec 27, “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.”
* * * *
The state had the final word, with Winkle saying it was absolutely “not true” that a woman would not be facing murder charges if she stabbed her alleged rapist 22 times. Think of all the women–and men–who are victims of sexual assault, she said, and did not stab their attacker. Think of all the marines walking amongst you, trying to re-adjust to society, she said, who have not resorted to violence.