Alex Blaze

Gay professor killed, murderer claims he was sexually assaulted

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 30, 2009 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: African-American, black, don belton, indiana university, Michael Griffin

An belton.jpegIndiana University English professor was found stabbed to death in his home. The professor was African American and gay, wrote for The Advocate and Newsweek, wrote a novel, and edited an anthology of essays on black masculinity.

A suspect has been arrested and charged with murder. Michael Griffin, who is a white, 25-year-old marine with a Purple Heart and a girlfriend, says that he was at Belton's house for Christmas and that he got drunk and Belton raped him. He went to confront the professor later, who he says expressed no remorse, so he pulled out a 10-inch knife and stabbed him repeatedly in the back and the chest. His girlfriend turned him in when she found out that the professor had been killed.

That's just the suspect's side of the story. Obviously we'll never know Belton's, and there's no reason to assume Griffin's telling the truth.

There will be a vigil for him on Friday in Bloomington. Local TV news coverage is after the jump.

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Wendy De Wolfe | December 30, 2009 6:25 PM

"and there's no reason to assume Griffin's telling the truth."

Seriously Alex? Let me remind you of the concept of 'innocent until proven guilty'. How can you discount Griffin's claim of being raped out of hand? If the story was about a woman who murdered someone because she claimed he had raped her would you have the same reaction? Would you think 'she must be lying because clearly she's a man hater'?

What happened is terrible but lets at least let the guy have a trial before we decide that know what exactly took place.

OK, then Don Belton innocent until proven guilty. He's being accused of rape and can't defend himself, and I'm stating that we can't believe the accuser simply because the accuser is making the accusation. Innocent until proven guilty is, in fact, the very concept I was getting at.

I didn't say Griffin was lying. I said that there's no reason to assume that he's telling the truth. If it were a woman who murdered a man who she said raped her? Honestly, don't know, but I wouldn't assume to know what had happened based on early police reports and an arrested suspect who's facing life's police statement.

Wendy De Wolfe | December 30, 2009 7:31 PM

Stating that 'there is no reason to assume Griffin is telling the truth' is the same as saying "Griffin's lying". I am not saying that we should assume that Griffin is telling the truth I am saying that it's wrong to imply that he must be lying. You are reporting a news story here, the words you choose are important, that is my point.


Surely the context here is important, and I'm curious to know why the other part of Alex's sentence is being erased.

"That's just the suspect's side of the story. Obviously we'll never know Belton's, and there's no reason to assume Griffin's telling the truth."

I think Alex is making the perfectly simple point that we know a lot (at the time of this writing) about what the killer claimed as his motivations but nothing about Belton's side of the story. I imagine the reason the story has surfaced on this queer blog is because it is about a possible and familiar "gay panic" defense. This is not a newspaper or a magazine; it's a blog. Alex is simply pointing out the existence of the story and the relevant details. He's not a reporter writing an utterly unbiased report about a news incident (inasmuch as we can believe that the news is ever unbiased or "objective.")

Let's not forget that there are distinctions between blogging and reporting. Alex is a queer blogger, writing about a queer incident on a queer blog. He's NOT reporting on the incident because he's NOT a reporter. For that kind of work - which requires a whole other set of PAID resources which our society seems increasingly unwilling to support - read the newspaper reports and support your local newspapers that do that kind of legwork. He's blogging about it. His work is not less important, but it's unfair to refer to refer to his work as if he were a reporter.

Given all that, this is a fairly straightforward presentation of the facts with, yes, a queer light shed upon them. Again, Alex is a blogger, not a reporter. Nothing wrong with that. I'm both a blogger and reporter, and I know the difference between my two professions, as does Alex. There are critical differences.

And if there's anyone here who actually needs to be told what the differences are: That's a clear sign that you're not reading enough newspapers.

Stating that 'there is no reason to assume Griffin is telling the truth' is the same as saying "Griffin's lying".

No, it's not. Buy a dictionary.

I agree that he is innocent until proven guilty but seriously, a 53 year old English professor RAPING a 25 year old ex Marine? I find it far more likely that the killer got a little toasted and curious and when he sobered up, was horrified to realize what he had done and even more, that he had enjoyed himself. He then had to prove to himself that he is A. a REAL man and B. That he isn't really gay. His story sounds like bullshit and the scenario that I suggest happens every day.

Can't we just assume that Griffin is telling the truth (until proven otherwise, if ever), and judge his actions based on that? It doesn't detract from the fact that this seems somewhat premeditated (I don't see any other reason to carry your 10" knife around at this point, and no reason is furnished), and also if there's reason to resort to violence in gay panic or sexual assault justice. So there's a lot of substantive debate to be had surrounding the murder that doesn't need to hark back to casting victim-blaming doubt on the sexual assault claims itself.

Also, I don't know how they classify various sexual assault charges in the States, but rape charges can often be limited to penetrative violations. So far, the "sexual assault" claim in the article is ambiguous as to what the nature of these assaults are.

I agree with Wendy and Mark D. It isn't Alex's place to determine Michael's believability when reporting on this story. And I always hesitate to completely throw out ANYONE'S claim that they have been sexually assaulted, no matter the context in which they are making it. Especially with language like "he should have been able to defend himself against the attack" and "the alleged rapist was such a respected person in the community - they would never have raped anyone." That sets a dangerous precedent. Maybe he was raped, maybe he wasn't ... it's really not up to us to decide. There is a TON of conjecture swirling around this case and while it does seem entirely premeditated (there are reports now that Michael brought along a change of clothes and threw out the bloody ones), we definitely don't have near enough information to determine if Michael's version of events is true, if this is a case of "gay guilt" on Michael's part, or if things are somewhere in between. We just don't know. Hopefully the truth will come out in the end, and hopefully Michael will get a serious sentence for what is most certainly a brutal murder under any circumstance.

Especially with language like "he should have been able to defend himself against the attack" and "the alleged rapist was such a respected person in the community - they would never have raped anyone."

I ctrl-F'ed the article. No one made those statements but you. Let us know when you want to discuss what's actually being said instead of whatever thing you put in other people's mouths to try to win internet debates.

I agree that we should allow a court to decide the issues. I would neither offer any opinion as to who is lying myself nor create any scenarios that seem likely to me.
What will figure here is that he knowingly went to confront a person and was armed to do so he is a young and physically trained man facing an opponent many years his senior.
A self protection argument is not going to fly. So he is certainly in deep. As to a charge of rape that will never be tried and if he had wanted it to be tried he could have gone to an ER or contacted the police. He took matters into his own hands which will also add to his trouble.

What is the difference between this murder and any of the other numerous murders of gay men that have been at the hands of sexually conflicted (to be polite) hetero men?

This scenario is repeated constantly - "I had to kill him because he made an advance on me." "I had to defend myself from his sexual aggression." "I am the victim here - not the dead guy."

I'm sorry, but this bullshit is not new and just because this time the murder victim is a black middle aged guy doesn't mean that there might be a whiff of truth to the claims of the poor young pretty white dude.

About 5% of me is withholding judgment on Griffin. 95% of me is listening to the rest of the fabrication with growing anger: the girlfriend that witnessed the rape/assault who conveniently has left town, neither the girlfriend nor Griffin reported the sexual attack to the police - the day it happened or the day after, instead Griffin grabs his knife to demand an apology or an expression of remorse from his attacker?? Really??

If you were sexually assaulted or raped would you wait two days before taking action and then when you do take action, the action is to ask for an apology - with your 10 inch knife on you?

The gf tipped the police off. The couple has known Belton since last summer (according to this website set up by Belton's collegues ).

This murder stinks of blaming the victim. Let go of your misplaced baggage. Stand up for Professor Belton. This isn't about you. Snap out of it.

This post is a shining example of how utterly unqualified Alex is for the position of Managing Editor. One would assume that Belton has a first name, but that was clearly lost in the regurgitation of the linked article. The only original contribution by Alex is his own editorial take, which demonstrates a clear lack of objectivity. But even this injection of opinion falls flat because he lacks the intellectual rigor required to consider that Griffin may very well feel violated in some manner, regardless of what actually happened. This post does nothing to advance either our understanding of the facts or of the issues that surround it, e.g., who is really in a position to decide if rape occurs and how we can deny someone else's experience. It might even be worth while to discuss why this article is relevant to Bilerico readers... his simply being gay isn't terribly important, but the role that played in his murder might be, discuss/report that.

Furthermore, Alex clearly has no understanding of how to effectively use hyperlinks. There is no point in making a near sentance-long link, particularly when the subject's profession and school are irrelevant to the link in question. One should only make the relevant information a link ("found stabbed to death" at most). The link in the first paragraph is another great (terrible?) example. If you say someone wrote a novel, the link should be to something relevant to the novel like an Amazon listing, an article announcing its publication, or even Belton's faculty page. Linking to a second article makes absolutely no sense there. Links are almost pointless though because the lack of underlining combined with the fact that the :visited color is so darn close to the regular text's color make it impossible to even know links are there once you've clicked them. The guys who thought up HTML and CSS standards knew what they were doing... but this is more Bil's fault than Alex's I guess.

This post is what I've always expected from Alex and Bilerico, so perhaps it's not fair to single it out... I just can't take it anymore.

As to your suggestion that relevance to TBP readers be a direction for discussion I agree completely.
Relevance here is multi fold as I see it on expression but I think that it comes down to identity in court as a defense and identity relative to police treatment of the investigation.
Will the identity of this man as black and as gay effect the way in which the police investigate the case and what evidence they provide to the DA and the defense lawyers for use? Will the identity of the accused as young white and straight color the way in which the jury views the case and even the way the DA decides to charge and try him.
The DA could choose to charge with murder 1, murder 2, or even as light as voluntary manslaughter since this young man could be seen as the victim.
So I am interested in how it is investigated by the police, how it is charged by the DA, how it is reported by the press, how it is defended by the lawyer and how the jury finally sees it.
This is important to me be cause we have suffered so often because of identity. Just using a public restroom and not being straight can lead to prosecution. I could get arrested for walking my dog in a park because a straight guy is just letting his dog poop while the bi guy is cruising and using a dog as bait in the eyes of many.
Walking while trans is an automatic charge in some places and is considered prostitution. Being black in the wrong neighborhood is often considered probable cause for questioning and charging.
So I am very interested in how the permutations of identity play out here. Not in identity politics but in the sense of the effect of identity on the legal system.
My youngest son was bothered when he realized that I avoid public restrooms as much as I can because I don't want to be arrested just for walking in and taking a leak. He was bothered when he realized that I couldn't be active with his scouting leadership. This week one of my students came in angry at his older brother because he called my oldest son "the gay kid" and it bothered the younger brother for more than one reason.
So I see this as a very relevant story.

The only original contribution by Alex is his own editorial take, which demonstrates a clear lack of objectivity

Editorial inherently means there's no objectivity. Seriously, did you read what you wrote before you clicked "submit"?

But even this injection of opinion falls flat because he lacks the intellectual rigor required to consider that Griffin may very well feel violated in some manner, regardless of what actually happened.

So now if he feels violated, no matter what happens, Belton's at fault and should be killed? Seriously?

Everyone's saying I posted this because of "gay panic," a phrase I didn't even use in the post or really even refer to. But you just posted the exact definition of it, a straight person who feels violated by a gay person's sexuality (to use your phrasing, "regardless of what actually happened") and then reacts violently, and seem to have no problem with it.

One should only make the relevant information a link ("found stabbed to death" at most).

Actually, there are quite a few schools of thought on that one. "Relevant information" isn't the standard most websites use, SEO is. You can criticize my linking from that perspective, but making up stupid standards to use for hyperlinked text isn't going to win you any arguments.

Patrick, I think you're not approaching this alleged rape correctly. It can be difficult for any victim to come forward and the situation at hand is complicated in many ways by sexuality, machismo, insecurity, and military indoctrination/culture. It is also not hard to believe that Griffin might have been under a lot of stress and confusion about what may have happened and overreacted. He may have felt a great deal of anger towards both himself and Belton that took some time to reach a full boil, and when it did, he may have lashed out.

These are complicated issues and I think it's never a good idea for any of us to insert our own understanding into a situation like this. We can offer our opinion about the contributing factors, but there is little point telling everyone that you think he's making it all up. There is as much evidence pointing to aliens being the real killers as there is discrediting the current narrative. It is plausible that there is some truth to Griffin's story, at least in terms of how he thinks about it.

No, dave, Griffin confessed to being the real killer. There were no aliens involved.

In fact, Griffin even brought a change of clothes with him to the house when he killed Belton and got rid of his bloody clothes.

But it's very good of you to go out of your way to explain how it might be understandable that Griffin would stab Belton 5 or 6 times in the back and several times in the front of the torso. It's nice to hear that you would give an armed former Marine who confessed to a brutal murder the benefit of the doubt over an accomplished Creative Writing professor twice the age of his murderer that wrote in his diary about how happy he was to have "Michael" in his life.

Why would it seem more plausible to go out of your way to extend sympathy to the man that committed the umpteenth murder of a gay man following the well documented pattern of claiming an implausible and rape as an explanation for murder - an accusation that conveniently cannot be proved.

How is this different than the teenager recently dismembered in Puerto Rico? Maybe that kid deserved it too...his murderer is making the same claim.

Well, it is Indiana... so gay panic over a rape will be the defense. But..... I think there is the possibility that another dynamic may have been playing out. And it would revolve around the girlfriend, which makes it interesting that she has disappeared.

They had known each other for 5 or 6 months. One cannot help but wonder if Griffen might have had bisexual feelings, or just been questioning. And perhaps that is where the girlfriend came in. Could it be that she was the instigator of the sex between Griffen and Belton? And could it also be that she is the instigator of the attack by shunning Belton after it was done?

Much to discover, I think.

On the other hand, we have only Griffin's word that the reason for the murder was a sexual assault/affair. It could be that is completely false. There could be another reason for the murdr altogether.

Here is the link to the Probable Cause Affidavit.

From the Affidavit,"He felt that Mr Belton was not in any way forgiving and that he did not show or express any type of feeling that what had taken place was a mistake."

Very strange statement. Why would Mr Belton need to be forgiving?

A mistake...who would refer to an assault as a "mistake"? You would only refer to consensual sex as a "mistake".

I certainlty hope that the fact that the rape (or sexual assualt) charge is being raised against a BLACK MAN isn't operating here as it has in other places in the gay blogosphere, as "the myth of the black rapist" certainly appears, in part, to be Griffin's defense here.

You say "the words you choose are important," right on the heels of "I am not saying that we should assume that Griffin is telling the truth," when those were Alex's words - that we shouldn't assume Griffin is telling the truth. Just because we shouldn't assume one thing doesn't necessarily mean we should assume the exact opposite. So the words Alex chose are pretty much as well-chosen as they could have gotten without him including an entire paragraph on exactly how we should feel about the truthfulness or lack thereof of Griffin's allegations.

This situation reminds me of To Kill A Mockingbird - it's relatively obvious that the professor wouldn't have been physically able to rape a strapping young marine, but this time the accused rapist can't even speak out in his own defence, and has anti-gay prejudice working against him as well. It'll be interesting to see what the courts think of Griffin's rape story. Will they go with 'innocent until proven guilty' on Belton's part? Or will they assume Griffin is telling the truth?

I am going to address my remarks to Dave who expressed his unhappiness at Alex's presentation of the information.
I should note that I am a working 30 year veteran of the Press Corps and as such I guess semi-qualifies me to make a professional observation.
Alex wrote an editorial piece by which and according to the ethics & standards of journalism was factually correct vis-a-vis the links and the excerpts. The fact that he was writing in an expressive style is what you seemed to take offence at versus the fact that he is under no obligation to "objectivity" as he is not reporting the story as it were.
If, you were mystified by the facts then my suggestion would be to Google the Victim's name and read the wire service reports or reporting from the mainstream media.
Slamming Alex and then taking a belittling swipe at Bil is simply petty and shows that you are apparently more interested in hearing the sound of your bitterness rather than contemplate the overall material in the story and presentation and considering it.
Oh, and before you jump on me, I'll caution you that I work for a mainstream wire service and as such I answer to editors daily including ones that are half my age such as Alex. Hence, I tend to be fairly tolerant and as a professional, also tend to be in awe of citizen-journalists like Alex who strive to inform, motivate, and inspire folks within their communities.
You sir, need to learn to be more charitable and less of a pompous arse in dealing with these folks or better yet? Go start and write your own blog.

When a confessed killer offers justification for what he has done and why he took the law into his own hands, I find it reasonable that we should not "assume Griffin is telling the [whole and accurate] truth." That is not to say he is certainly lying, it is to say we should scrutinize his testimony very carefully.

I also find it difficult to believe that Belton was guilty of rape, in front of a witness (the girlfriend), no less --- again, I did not say Griffin is lying because I don't know, but I am saying I find it difficult to believe.

Finally, why would anyone carry a 10-inch knife if he wasn't thinking about at least possibly using it? If Griffin thought that Belton might attack him again, then he should have stayed away. To me, Griffin bringing along such a weapon shows that the murder had to be pre-meditated at some level.

What a tragedy ... what a terrible, heartbreaking tragedy.

SarahtheLibrarian | January 1, 2010 11:16 PM

To say that I disagree with the entire tone and point of this article in an understatement. I think that everyone should read what Liss at Shakesville had to say about it because it is 10,000 times more intelligent:

"So, what we know ultimately tells us nothing.

That may seem like a point not worth making, except that in cases like this it's hard not to make assumptions (rape revenge! gay panic defense!), even though patience is the only thing that can bring us closer to the truth right now. Anything else is speculation based on (and thus reinforcing) stereotypes and rape culture narratives. So I'm not going to make any guesses."


You're comparing Melissa McEwan's extraordinarily subjective piece, where she brings up the issue of her own rape, to Alex Blaze's straightforward retelling of the facts. Why is McEwan's piece 10,000 times more intelligent? What, exactly, do you find so disagreeable about the "entire tone and point of this article?" It's okay for a woman to insert her own experience of rape into a report about a rape? But it's not okay for Alex Blaze, a gay man, to ... well, I'm actually not very clear on what you find so problematic about this piece here.

I'm genuinely curious to know what you meant. I've been struck by the repeated admonitions lately to Bilerico bloggers to do things differently, and I'm wondering what it it is, exactly, that we're expected to do differently. I mean, this is a blog. As is Shakesville (once Shakespeare's Sister). Blogs are not where you go to find *articles,* and a blog post can only be an article if someone demonstrates that they have brought the same tools to it as they would to a paid magazine/newspaper article/report (for more on that, see my response to Wendy above). Blogs are for blog posts, and as such they abound with subjective pieces, like Melissa McEwan's.

Perhaps the problem for some readers is that they prefer some forms of subjectivity over others, but would rather not admit that they like subjectivity in the first place? I don't know.

4/14/2011. GUILTY. No evidence of sexual assault.