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,