Indiana University English Professor Don Belton Stabbed and Killed, Vigil Held in His Honor
Don Belton, openly gay novelist and University of Indiana professor was found dead in his apartment on December 29. The Chicago Tribune reported that that Michael J. Griffin confessed to killing Belton, claiming that Belton had "sexually assaulted" him on Christmas Day.
Twenty-five-year-old Michael J. Griffin of Bloomington pleaded not guilty to charges he killed Belton. Court documents show that Griffin told police he fatally stabbed Belton and said Belton sexually assaulted him days before the attack.
Belton's friends say they don't believe Griffin's accusation. Griffin is being held without bond in the Monroe County Jail.
Belton, who was in his second year on the school's faculty, was found slain in his home by a friend Monday morning and Michael Griffin was arrested Monday night at his own house near Bloomington, KXIN-TV, Indianapolis, reported.
Police said they discovered Griffin's name was one of the last names mentioned in Belton's journal and recovered a knife in Griffin's home they believe was the murder weapon.
ABC reported that the alleged sexual assualt took place in front of Griffin's girlfriend at a holiday gathering while the two were intoxicated. Griffin refused to tell police in detail the nature of the "assault." Police have not released any information to the media as to whether his girlfriend, who called the police and told them that she thought Griffin may have something to do with Belton's murder, has corroborated those facts.
Despite his alleged confession, Griffin has pleaded not guilty to the killing. And though his defense strategy is not yet clear, others with similar cases have pursued a "gay panic" defense, hoping to persuade juries that they were rendered temporarily insane by the perceived romantic or sexual advances of the victim.
In the case of Matthew Shepard, the gay 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming who was tortured and murdered in 1998, his attackers originally used the gay panic defense, arguing that they were driven to temporary insanity by his alleged sexual advances. Both attackers were given life sentences.
A candlelight vigil in Belton’s honor took place on New Year’ Day. The Indiana Daily Student wrote that hundreds of students, faculty and community members attended to mourn the loss of their friend:
IU professors, students and Bloomington community members made their way to the Bloomington Courthouse square on New Year’s Day to remember IU assistant professor Don Belton, who was stabbed to death Dec. 27.The hundreds of attendees filled the entirety of the block's sidewalk as they walked around the square to keep warm.
Not only is Greiner’s friend and colleague gone, but she has been dealing with inadequate media coverage and negative comments and feedback resulting from such coverage, she said. Many other friends and colleagues also said the Belton they knew had yet to surface.
“We want to change public perception … while they are still paying attention,” Greiner said.
With candles, people shuffled around the sidewalk bordering the square; a bird’s eye view would show the square almost fully illuminated, as about 200 gathered there.
Former IU undergraduate Justin Way was in South Bend, home from graduate school in Columbia, N.Y., when he received the news from a friend.
Way took Belton’s 2008 advanced fiction writing workshop, recalling how in Belton’s class students would not read the typical fiction.
“That’s a thing about him, he opened up your reading taste to be more eclectic,” Way said.
He added that Belton’s class was the antithesis of the competitive atmosphere writing could often have. Way said his attitude toward writing changed because of Belton.
“It really is tragic,” Way said, reflecting on Belton’s near departure to Honolulu the morning of Dec. 28. “I always remember telling how he wanted to go to Hawaii, write a couple of poems and come back.”
Belton was the author of a novel, Almost Midnight, and editor of Speak My Name, an anthology about black masculinity. Over the years, he taught literature, fiction and world cinema at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Macalester College and the University of Pennsylvania. His writings have appeared in Newsweek, The Advocate and numerous academic journals.
GLAAD will continue to monitor this story and provide updates.