Columbus--More than three years after Michael Jennings confessed to the murder of a female impersonator, the prosecution of the former stripper began August 22 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 roommate Gary McMurtry, known in the Columbus gay community as Brazon, was killed.
With his voice occasionally shaking, Bass, 48, told the court he awoke, put on his shorts and opened his door when he confronted by a masked man dressed in a �ninja type� black outfit in his hallway. He said he grappled with the intruder before the man 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 �laying on the floor, balled up in a fetal position� near his closet. McMurtry, 36, was slashed and stabbed 13 times, receiving a killing blow through his liver and heart.
Jennings, now 34, has admitted to the attack at 3485 Indianola Ave. in the village of Clintonville, but his defense attorneys entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. In May, he waived his right to a jury trial, opting for a three-judge panel to hear the case.
Jennings insists that he is not insane.
Police found Jennings over an hour after the attack, still carrying a bloody sword. He also had a backpack containing a small crossbow, throwing darts, a weighted fighting chain, throwing stars and several other ninja-related weapons. The outfit he was wearing was later identified as one he used in strip shows, where he was known as Devon.
Defense attorney Larry Thomas said his client, who has been forcibly medicated with anti-psychotics since his arrest, believed he was �on a mission to spread world peace.� He said he believes Jennings should receive time in a treatment facility rather that life in prison or the death penalty.
Also called were several residents in the area at the time of the murder, including golfing partners Jeff Linden and Jeffrey Soiu, who witnessed a fleeing Jennings from a friend�s driveway.
�We both watched this person run right in front of us. The only thing I could see was his eyes,� said Soiu, who described a �quite ghastly� figure dressed entirely in black vanishing between houses before reappearing. He said he then went into the house and reported the incident to his friend.
�I said, �This is what we just saw. Is this common in your neighborhood?� he asked the friend.
Witness Martha West said she saw a man dressed in black running down her street before diving into a neighbor�s bushes to avoid detection by a passing van.
Electric company worker Josh Ruark said police notified his crew that there was an armed man dressed in black in the neighborhood. After police left, he said he spotted Jennings walking on High Street, looked to see if he was carrying a gun and started following behind him for two blocks.
�I tried talking to him and told him someone wanted to talk to him . . . he didn�t acknowledge me,� said Ruark.
In addition to calling witnesses, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O�Brien and assistant prosecutor George Ellis introduced box loads of evidence, including items of clothing found with Jennings, a bicycle he allegedly abandoned nearby, the bedroom door, which had a large footprint on it, and photos of a broken bedroom door frame.
During much of the testimony, Jennings sat in his chair looking at his hands in his lap, letting out audible sighs as witnesses came and went. 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, appearing to be yawning.
Friends of Jennings and Bass sat in court with tear-filled eyes as the survivor 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� parents, who are expected to testify, spent much of the day in the hallway to the courtroom.
It is unclear if Jennings will testify on his own behalf, though a member of the defense team indicated that Jennings might want to do so. Both the defense and prosecution plan to call separate psychiatrists to give testimony.
Reaction to the impending trial has been mixed, with many of McMurtry�s friends remembering and exchanging their favorite Brazon stories and changing their minds about what they would like to see as an outcome to the trial.
�I think the most important thing about Gary was he had this likable thing about him, you wanted to go see him, you wanted to be around him . . . that was his appeal,� said Neil Raffensberger, who used to perform as Cher Andrea.
He said he hopes Jennings receives the death penalty.
�I would love to see him put to death. I think he knew exactly what he was doing and regardless, he should pay for it,� said Raffensberger. �I hope he fries. He took away something he had no right to take--Brazon--he took her.�
Michael Bishop, who performs as Beverly Ford, lived with McMurtry for two years, up until about two months before the murder. He said he remembers long discussions with Jennings in their kitchen, noting that while he was always quiet, he wasn�t violent or even especially odd. He said he doesn�t have much of an opinion about the outcome of the trial.
�I don�t care really,� said Bishop, who misses his former roommate and friend. �It doesn�t matter what they do to [Jennings]. It won�t bring her back.�
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