On January 18, 1997, 30-year-old Glenn Brown was found stabbed to death in his apartment in Columbus, Ohio. Police recovered a bloody knife outside Brown’s apartment. The knife tested positive for Brown’s blood. A neighbor said he heard a scuffle about 4 a.m. and heard what he believed was Brown pleading for his life with the words, “Please don’t kill me” before seeing what he thought were two people running from Brown’s apartment.
The murder went unsolved for more than a year. Authorities then began to focus on 21-year-old Michael Belcher after Fred Kinney, a friend of Brown’s, told police that he had lunch with Brown on January 17, the day before the murder. Kinney reported that Brown told him that on the night of January 16, Brown had met a man named Michael at The Garage, a local gay bar, and that they had gone back to Brown’s apartment after the bar closed. According to Kinney, Brown said that he and Michael had quarreled, but that Michael had spent the night in Brown’s apartment and left the following morning.
After Brown was killed, Kinney went to The Garage and a bartender identified Belcher – who was at the bar at that time – as the man who was with Brown two days before Brown was killed.
Police found three of Belcher’s fingerprints in Brown’s apartment. One was on the bottom of the toilet seat lid and the other two were on empty beer cans.
Police brought Belcher in for questioning in January 1998. Belcher said he did not know Brown, denied being gay and denied involvement in the murder. Later that month, police questioned Belcher again and he said he could not remember Brown or being with Brown at a bar. He told police he was an alcoholic and might have blacked out or just was incapable of remembering the events of the night Brown was killed. In March 1998, police interviewed Brown again and he again denied having any role in Brown’s murder.
In August 1998, Belcher was arrested and charged with murder and robbery. The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office sought the death penalty.
Belcher went on trial in 1999 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. The prosecution claimed that Belcher and someone else — whose identity, if he existed, was never discovered — had gone to Brown’s apartment after a night of drinking and drugs. The prosecution argued that Belcher was a street hustler who argued with Brown, then killed and robbed him.
Kinney testified to his lunch conversation with Brown the day before he was killed. Another witness, Antwan Jones, said he saw Brown and Belcher the night before Brown was killed. Jones said he was with them at a crack house and that they later went to Jones’ apartment. Jones said that Belcher and Brown left together after 3 a.m.
Two men who were in jail with Belcher while he was awaiting trial also testified. Frank Kinkaid said Belcher told him that he met Brown at a bar and they went to Brown’s apartment, where they got into a fight and Belcher blacked out. Kinkaid said that Belcher told him that when he awoke, he was outside of Brown’s apartment.
The other inmate, Virgil Lee MacDonald, said he heard Belcher tell someone else that he stabbed Brown, then drank a beer, washed his hands and left the apartment. MacDonald admitted he might have taken the words out of context. Both inmates received favorable treatment from the prosecution in return for their testimony against Belcher.
On May 6, 1999, the jury convicted Belcher of involuntary manslaughter and robbery. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In September 2000, the Court of Appeals of Ohio reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial because the prosecutor improperly commented on Belcher’s decision not to testify, in violation of Belcher’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination.
Belcher went to trial a second time 2001 with new attorneys, after refusing to accept offers to plead guilty. The new attorneys contended that Belcher was a male prostitute who went to Brown’s apartment the night before Brown was killed to engage in sex with Brown for money.
The lawyers discovered that Belcher’s attorney in the first trial had failed to present evidence that there were 19 fingerprints in the apartment that not only did not belong to Belcher, but were unidentified. Moreover, there was a fingerprint on the knife used in the stabbing that did not match Belcher. They also discovered an unidentified fingerprint that appeared to have been left on top of Belcher’s fingerprint that was found under the toilet seat lid. That print, the defense argued, must have been left by someone who was in Brown’s apartment after Belcher had been there.
On March 9, 2001, the jury deliberated for four hours before acquitting Belcher, and he was released.
– Maurice Possley