I first met Don Belton when he visited Bloomington to apply for the professor's job at Indiana University in 2008. I got to sit in on a dinner with some faculty members and I was immediately struck by the man's warmth and intelligence. You could tell this was a brother who had not only read and written extensively, but also had the life experience to inform his work and teaching. This was a wise, caring person.
He also had that James Baldwin aura about him: he was a truth teller.
On December 27th, Don Belton was brutally murdered in his home. Police later found a journal entry Belton wrote about a man named Michael, and how happy Belton was about their relationship. This lead police to Michael Griffin, a 25 year old former Marine. Griffin quickly confessed, but portrayed the murder as a revenge killing. Griffin, who served a tour of duty in Iraq, claimed that the 53 year old novelist was able to sexually assault him, not once, but twice, on Christmas day.
With all due respect to the judicial process and the rights of the accused, this is, of course, the worst kind of fiction.
Griffin, who has a girlfriend and a two year old son, says that he came to Belton's home seeking something. He says it was an apology, but maybe it was an absolution, or an answer to why what happened between them happened on Christmas. Whatever he found with Belton in that house left him disturbed enough to stab this man, this loving man, to death.
Describing Belton as a loving man, I think of Baldwin. He once said, "love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within." According to Baldwin this love principle requires us to remove our masks and come to grips with the truth of what lies underneath. This principle also obligates us to share this truth with those that we share our love with, even when it painfully unfastens the masks they hold. The consequences of this truth telling are often great, and it takes a person of great bravery and integrity to uphold this standard. I'm not sure what happened between the two men, but it seems that Belton's faithful adherence to this love principle is what cost him his life.
He will be sorely missed.
A candle light vigil is planned at IU from 5-6pm. Friends of Don have set up an excellent blog dedicated to memorializing Belton and bringing his killer to justice.
***Update after the trial