A convicted murderer said he wanted to die during a brief hearing Monday that marked his first appearance in a Fulton County courtroom since being charged in November for his alleged role in the slaying of a gay Midtown man.
Howard Milton Belcher, 26, is charged with murder in the Oct. 5, 2002, death of Mark Schaller, a 40-year-old gay man who lived in an upscale Midtown condominium. Fulton County prosecutors said in November they decided against seeking the death penalty for Belcher.
But during a 10-minute hearing Monday, Assistant District Attorney Anna Green served Belcher with notice that prosecutors intend to pursue the death penalty, calling Belcher’s alleged role in Schaller’s death “outrageously or wantonly vile.”
When Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore asked Belcher if he accepted his two court-appointed attorneys, he surprised court observes by thanking Moore for the death penalty and asking to die.
“I’d like to thank the court for giving me the death penalty,” Belcher said. “I’d like to thank the Fulton County District Attorney, Mr. Paul Howard.”
Moore interrupted, telling Belcher he has yet to face trial on charges in the death of Schaller, including felony murder, murder, aggravated assault and theft by taking. The hearing on Monday marked Belcher’s first appearance in court since being formally charged Nov. 9.
“I want the death penalty,” Belcher continued. “I don’t have anything to talk about. I want the death penalty. I really don’t want anyone to represent me.”
Belcher’s attorneys could not be reached for comment this week.
Prosecutors called Belcher a serial killer after his indictment in November.
A Paulding County judge sentenced Belcher to life in prison plus 20 years last June for the Oct. 10, 2002, murder of Matthew Abney, 45, a gay assistant manager for Wal-Mart.
Belcher is also charged with murder in the death of Leroy Tyler, a 27-year-old gay man found in his Clarkston apartment on Oct. 5, 2002. Belcher is also a suspect in the Oct. 28, 2002, death of Artilles McKinney, a 35-year-old gay Duluth man.
Belcher allegedly went on a killing spree in October 2002, meeting victims at or near Bulldogs, a Peachtree Street gay bar, according to authorities. After his arrest, Belcher described himself as an HIV-positive prostitute, according to the Atlanta Police Department. He told detectives that he frequented Bulldogs and the area around the bar to meet tricks.
Belcher was arrested Oct. 30, 2002, when police in College Park stopped Belcher while he was driving a 1994 Lexus. Police discovered the car’s owner, McKinney, dead in his townhouse a day earlier. Forensic evidence later proved inconclusive and has kept authorities from charging Belcher in the slaying, authorities have said.
On Monday, prosecutors said they will try to introduce evidence in the trial to show that Belcher used the same methods to allegedly kill other gay men in metro Atlanta. In a trial last June in Paulding County, prosecutors attempted the same legal maneuver — called “similar transactions” — by suggesting Belcher killed three other gay men.
A judge rebuffed the move to introduce evidence linking Belcher to the slayings of Tyler in DeKalb and McKinney in Gwinnett, but allowed links to Schaller’s homicide in Atlanta. Tom Melanson, an assistant district attorney in Paulding, said that strengthened his case, which ended with Belcher receiving a sentence of life in prison plus 20 years for murdering Abney.
Fulton prosecutors are hoping to find similar success when the case reaches trial, which could take up to a year, according to David Cooke, an assistant district attorney.
“They are of a very similar nature,” Cooke said Monday.
In the Paulding slaying, Belcher and Abney had sex before Belcher strangled him and took jewelry and his car. Abney’s hands were bound with a necktie, he was partially dressed, and a gas oven was left on.
Schaller was found partially nude with his hands bound by a necktie and died of blunt force injury to the neck, police said. A gas oven in his condo was also turned on.
Tyler was strangled with his hands tied, police said.