Pennsylvania gay activist found stabbed to death

BY Advocate.com Editors

March 15 2003 1:00 AM ET

A Wilkes-Barre, Pa., man who was a leader in the gay community and was wanted in connection with the stabbing of his boyfriend was himself found stabbed to death Wednesday. Michael Pierson's body, which showed a stab wound to the chest, was discovered in a lake at the Glenmaura National Golf Club, according to the Lackawanna County, Pa., coroner's office. Pierson, 40, had been wanted in the January 28 stabbing of his boyfriend, Kenneth Stephens, 21. Police believed that Pierson stabbed Stephens in the chest and neck and then fled the area. But Pierson's friends say police were unresponsive to their concerns about his safety. "Right from the jump I thought he was dead," said friend Debbie Scott. Other friends said police were unwilling to conduct a more thorough search for Pierson and wouldn't grant them permission to do their own search.

Stephens required hospital treatment for deep cuts inflicted with a 4- to 5-inch serrated-blade Buck knife. He told police that Pierson stabbed him during an argument and then fled in Stephens's 1992 Chevrolet pickup.

Pierson's body was spotted by two elderly men looking for golf balls Wednesday afternoon. The body was submerged in water near the shoreline of a lake between the 16th and 17th tees, said Joe Swoboda, chief deputy coroner for Lackawanna County. Pierson had suffered a single stab wound to the left chest area and was not dressed in clothing appropriate for existing weather conditions when his body was found. "He very well could have been there since the day he was allegedly missing," Swoboda said. "He was there for a while."

Pierson was the vice president of Pride of Northeast PA, a gay social group. He worked for the Red Cross as an HIV/AIDS educator as the Men Who Have Sex With Men coordinator, said his boss, Mark Innocenzi. Pierson's job included going to gay bars to educate patrons. He did not return to work after the January stabbing incident involving Stephens. "The work he has done for the community is immeasurable," said Lee LaChette of Wilkes-Barre, president of Pride. "It will take many devoted people to continue the work of this one man."

Scott said she knew Stephens and Pierson well. For three years, she said, Stephens would play Santa Claus on Christmas Eve for her grandchildren. "He was great at it," she added. "This past Christmas Mike played his elf." The two had been together several months, although the relationship was abusive, according to Scott. "Mike was black and blue," she said. Several friends took pictures of his bruised face, and they gave the photos to police. Scott said she feared for Pierson's life when he didn't show up at her house the night of January 27 as scheduled to see workout equipment he was considering buying.

Pierson's disappearance left "a big void," said Margie Bryant, treasurer of Pride of Northeast PA, several weeks ago. "Mike is the kind of guy who was just trying to help [Stephens]. He should have known better." Added Scott: "He was madly in love with Kenny."

Pierson's friend John Dawe said he is saddened that Pierson can never tell his side of the story. "We knew Mike would never stab someone without it being in self-defense."

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