An HIV-positive suspected serial killer of gay men in Atlanta may yet get what he once asked for: the death penalty. The case of Howard Milton Belcher, quiet for years, surfaced again on Thursday.
That’s when Belcher, already serving a life sentence for the 2002 murder of a Paulding County man, appeared before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob, appearing healthy enough for the judge to push for a restart to a death penalty case against him. The case – Belcher is charged with killing a gay Midtown man in 2002 – has stalled since Belcher’s health sputtered over his failure to take his HIV medications.
“This case has lingered because … I was told he would not survive,” Shoob said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The judge asked the attorneys to discuss resolving the case or moving forward a trial. Shoob ordered them to report back to her in two weeks.
Belcher went on an alleged murder spree in October 2002, just a short time after being released from prison. Robbery apparently motivated Belcher during his killing spree, a month long affair that sometimes started with meeting his victims at or near Bulldogs, a Peachtree Street gay bar popular with African Americans. After his arrest, Belcher described himself to Atlanta police as an HIV-positive prostitute.
Belcher was arrested Oct. 30, 2002, when police in College Park stopped him while he was driving a 1994 Lexus. Police discovered the car’s owner, Artilles McKinney, dead in his townhouse a day earlier. Forensic evidence later proved inconclusive and, at the time, kept authorities from charging Belcher in the slaying.
In the Paulding case, Belcher was convicted of the Oct. 20, 2002 murder of Matthew Abney, a gay assistant manager for Wal-Mart. 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.
Belcher appeared in court on Thursday in the case of Mark Schaller, a gay man who was murdered in his upscale condo on Dutch Valley Road in Midtown on Oct. 5, 2002. Schaller was found partially nude with his hands bound by a necktie and died of blunt force injury to the neck, police said.
Fulton County prosecutors initially decided against seeking the death penalty against Belcher, but reversed course in 2005. In a January 2005 court appearance, Belcher thanked his attorneys and asked 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.”
Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore interrupted Belcher, telling him he had yet to face trial on charges of killing Schaller. He was formally charged in the case on Nov. 9, 2004 and prosecutors later called him a serial killer.
“I want the death penalty,” Belcher said. “I don’t have anything to talk about. I want the death penalty. I really don’t want anyone to represent me.”
At the time, Belcher also was charged with murder in the death of Leroy Taylor, a gay man found in his Clarkston apartment on Oct. 5, 2002. He was strangled with his hands tied and his body was found in the bedroom under a comforter. His car was taken and the stove was turned on, police said. The status of that case was not immediately clear on Thursday.