Columbus--After more than a three-year delay in the samurai sword death of female impersonator Brazon, the capital murder case against former stripper Michael Jennings is scheduled to begin August 22.
Jennings, now 34, has pleaded insanity in the murder of Gary McMurtry, who had performed as Brazon for more than a dozen years. The well-known McMurtry was Miss Gay Ohio 1994, and had twice been ranked in the Miss Gay America pageant.
Jennings, who performed as Devon, is accused of attacking McMurtry and his roommate Brian Bass on the morning of May 17, 2002 at the victims’ Clintonville home. Jennings allegedly wielded the sword that cut McMurtry several times in the head, neck and chest, and struck a fatal blow through McMurtry's heart. Bass, who is expected to testify, received lacerations to his hands.
Jennings was found just over an hour later, carrying the bloody sword. He was held on a $1 million bond and was committed to Twin Valley Behavioral Health Care in Columbus where, by court order, he was forcibly injected with anti-psychotic drugs. At a May court appearance, Jennings asked trial judge Beverly Pfeiffer to stop the injections.
The defense team has chosen a three-judge panel to hear the case, giving up the right to a jury trial.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien says the move is fairly rare, especially on a trial case, and is a signal that the defense team might be trying for an acquittal.
"There are cases where the defense has a better chance avoiding the death penalty with the three judges," says O'Brien, noting that all three judges will have to agree to sentence Jennings to death. The judges for the panel are chosen at random.
By switching to the insanity defense, the burden of proof shifts to the defense team, which must now prove Jennings suffered a mental disease and did not know the difference between right and wrong.
O'Brien, who was on the scene shortly after the murder, says he is still disturbed that Jennings has not presented a reasonable motive for the attack.
The relationship between McMurtry and Jennings is in question. Some say the two knew each other for a short time, others claim that, for years, they had been on-again-off-again lovers.
Many fellow performers and patrons remember Jennings as quiet and soft-spoken. Columbus performer Georgia Jackson recalls that Jennings often carried what looked like a pool cue in a case with him to performances.
"A lot of the boys carry their [pool] sticks with them, I never thought anything of it," says Jackson.
McMurtry was known for his quick wit and love of Dolly Parton, and is credited by many in the gay community with giving time and raising thousands of dollars for local gay and AIDS charities.
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