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Michael Griffin Found Guilty of Murdering IU Professor

A jury of five men and seven women has found Michael Griffin guilty of murder in the stabbing death of Indiana University English professor Don Belton.

11:45 p.m. update

A jury late Thursday night convicted Michael Griffin, the man charged with killing Indiana University English professor Don Belton, of murder.

The jury did not render its verdict in court until after 11 pm Thursday – more than 12 hours after jurors had begun deliberations.  In what one legal insider said was one of the longest deliberations in recent memory, the jury did not struggle with whether to convict Griffin, but on what charge.  The ex-Marine had admitted on the witness stand Wednesday he’d slain Belton by stabbing him, but defense lawyers planted seeds throughout the trial and again during closing arguments that Griffin should be convicted of the lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder.

In the end, the jury sided with the argument presented by prosecutor Darcie Winkle, who in her closing argument repeatedly mentioned not just the 22 wounds which took Belton’s life, but the fact that it took Griffin approximately 32 hours to choose a course of action after what the defense painted as a Christmas, 2009 sexual assault by the professor on the former soldier – an ultimately successful attempt to invalidate the defense’s claim Griffin was overcome by an incapacitating force known as “sudden heat”.

Judge Teresa Harper will sentence Griffin on May 17th.  Murder carries a standard sentence of 55 years in prison, but can range from 45 years to life behind bars, depending on whether mitigating or aggravating factors are considered.  Even if the judge opts for the 45-year minimum, the soonest the 27-year old Griffin could leave prison with good behavior  would be around the time he turns 50 years old.

12:00 p.m. update

The jury in the Michael Griffin murder trial has heard final arguments and has begun deliberating.

During her closing arguments, prosecutor Darcie Winkle referred repeatedly to the knife wounds inflicted on Don Belton calling it “an onslaught of 22 stabs” and saying Griffin possessed an “arsenal of knives.”  Winkle also criticized what she called the “convenient lack of detail” in Griffin’s remembrance of his struggle with Belton.

Defense lawyer David Collins pointed out how the prosecution wanted the jury to believe parts of Griffin’s testimony but disregard others.  About his accusation that Don Belton sexually assaulted him Collins said, “Even good people can do bad things.”

At about 10:45 this morning the jury retired to deliberate the case.  Among the issues which could take them the most time to decide are whether to convict Griffin of murder or voluntary manslaughter, whether the defense’s claim that Griffin acted in sudden heat should stand, and whether the prosecution proved its murder case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Stan Jastrzebski

WFIU/WTIU News Senior Editor Stan Jastrzebski spent time as a reporter with WGN Radio in Chicago and as an editor at Network Indiana, an Indianapolis news service. Stan is the winner of awards from the Associated Press, the RTDNA, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He hosts WFIU's Ask the Mayor and anchors WTIU's InFocus.

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