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Female
impersonator murder trial begins in Ohio

Female
impersonator murder trial begins in Ohio

More than three years after Michael Jennings confessed to the murder of one of Columbus, Ohio's leading female impersonators, Jennings's trial began Monday with a detailed description from the only eyewitness to the attack. "The next thing I remember is waking up with Gary screaming, 'Help, get him off me,'" said Brian Bass, testifying about the early morning hours of May 17, 2002, when his former roommate, Gary McMurtry--known among Columbus's gay men and lesbians as "Brazon"--was killed. Bass, 48, told the court he awoke, put on his shorts, and opened his door when he was confronted by a masked man dressed in a "ninja type" black outfit in his hallway. He said he grappled with the intruder before the intruder pulled a sword from a sheath strapped to his back. Bass, who received defensive wounds on his palms from the sword, said he saw McMurtry "lying on the floor, balled up in a fetal position." McMurtry, 36, had been slashed 13 times, receiving a fatal blow through his liver and heart. A former Miss Gay Columbus, McMurtry was known for his quick wit and love of Dolly Parton, whose songs were played at his funeral. While comedic and sometimes surly, McMurtry is also credited by many with giving time and raising thousands of dollars for local gay and AIDS charities. Although Jennings admitted killing McMurtry, the former male stripper entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. In May he and his defense attorneys waived his right to a jury trial, opting for a three-judge panel to hear the case. During opening arguments, Jennings's defense attorney, Larry Thomas, said his client, who has been forcibly medicated since his arrest, believed he was "on a mission to spread world peace." Franklin County prosecutor Ron O'Brien and assistant prosecutor George Ellis spent much of the day calling witnesses who saw an armed, masked figure dressed in black running through their neighborhood just after 7 a.m. on the day of the crime. They presented boxloads of evidence, including a backpack taken from Jennings. The backpack contained throwing darts, a small crossbow, a weighted fighting chain, throwing stars, and several other ninja-related weapons. During much of the testimony Jennings sat in his chair looking at his hands in his lap. As the day's presentation of evidence ended with photos of blood-splattered walls and sheets in McMurtry's bedroom, Jennings was seen burying his face in his hands, apparently yawning. Friends of both victims sat in court with tear-filled eyes as Bass described the attack on McMurtry, his 911 call, wrapping his bloody hands in towels, and fleeing into the street to flag down passing motorists for help. Jennings's parents spent much of the day in the hallway to the courtroom. (Doug Maag, Advocate.com)

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