The callous death of World War II veteran Delbert Belton on Aug. 22, 2013, was not an act of terrorism, nor was it racially inspired or gang-related. In a country where too many people die because of firearms wielded by neighbours, 88-year-old Belton’s murder in a Spokane car park was caused by “big, heavy flashlights” rather than by a gun. Although robbery has been touted as a probable motive, there were only a handful of dollars at stake in the old man’s wallet.
The killing has sparked nationwide interest precisely because it doesn’t seem to fit any of the usual horror stories. In 1945, Delbert Belton took a bullet at Okinawa in the service of his country, and now, almost 70 years later, he has died in a way that seems pitiful and pointless.
Belton was found horrendously beaten in the front seat of his car. Doctors at the Intensive Care Unit of Sacred Heart told family members that he had been beaten so badly that he would have sustained brain damage and lost too much blood to survive. Belton, known as “Shorty” because of his small stature, had been waiting for a friend outside the Eagles Ice-A-Rena and may have fought back against his attackers.
“Our information is that the individual fought back and that may have made this a worse situation,” said Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub. “I’m not being critical of Mr. Belton,” he added. “We certainly encourage individuals to fight back, and he should have. But it shouldn’t have happened to begin with.”
Those suspected of the killing – two 16-year-old boys – will be tried as adults and face a possible life sentence if convicted on charges of first-degree murder, though both are legally just children. Although there has been a nationwide move towards “get tough” measures against violent criminals, irrespective of age, the court will need to wrestle with the question of how well these two boys were intellectually and emotionally equipped to deal with the magnitude of their crime.
The accused are Demetruis Glenn, who turned himself in on the day following the murder, and Kenan Adams-Kinard, who was arrested after four days on the run. Adams-Kinard was found hiding out in an apartment with three other young people who have been charged with rendering criminal assistance to the alleged killer.
Both boys have previous convictions for violent crimes. According to Kenan Adams-Kinard’s uncle, Odell Kinard, “He hung around with the wrong people and made the wrong choices.” Mr. Kinard told reporters that he was shocked that his nephew – a promising basketball player – had been accused of a cowardly and brutal murder. “It’s the summer and ain’t nothing to do here,” he said.
The Visit Spokane website suggests that there is, in fact, plenty to do in the city, although having money and an education may be pre-requisites for making the most of those opportunities. It is also worth noting that Spokane’s rates for violent and property crimes are well above national averages, with inner city neighborhoods ranked among the “least safe” in the United States.
Adams-Kinard’s family had urged Kenan to give himself up. “The family was helpful,” Chief Straub said. “The family encouraged him to surrender. The family got the gravity of this.”
Odell Kinard agrees that, if guilty, his nephew needs to pay for his actions, but is “praying that he gets 10 years or less.” He had earlier suggested there was more to the case than media were reporting. “They are building it like these kids just went and beat up an old man, which it didn’t occur like that, but it is all going to come out,” he told KHQ.
However, Spokane Police Major Crimes Detective Lieutenant Mark Griffiths argues that “It does appear random” and that there is “no indication that he [Belton] would have known these people prior to the assault.”
Demetruis Glenn’s lawyer, Christian Phelps, fears that there will be a “rush to judgement” in such a high profile case. “A lot of folks just want to throw these kids away and the key — or worse. I would urge people to wait for the facts to develop,” he said. “There are no eyewitnesses and no forensic evidence that links either of the kids to the crime.” The boys were spotted near the crime scene by surveillance cameras, however, and Phelps has so far declined to offer any explanation for this.
Delbert Belton’s family and friends have expressed anger and sorrow at their loved one’s needless passing. Son Bill, 65, received the terrible news while in hospital himself, while sister Alberta Tosh told reporters that “He was a good guy who would help anybody.” Belton’s great-nephew endorsed this, telling KHQ that the old man had virtually saved his life by finding him work and helping him get back on his feet during some tough times.
Close friend Ted Denison, who played pool with Belton for more than 20 years, said that although the veteran’s wife had died several years ago, Belton had never lost his sense of fun. “He was always there for me when I needed him,” he said. “I thought of him more as a dad than I did a friend really.”
Denison told KXLY.com that he thinks the killers are cowards and wimps. “’They are cowards when they beat old people that are defenceless ….Beating an old man, what kind of person does that?”
Unfortunately, the Spokane area may have more than its fair share of young people cut from that cloth. Frank Straub has called for more programs to help the city’s troubled youth, saying that while the killing is a tragedy for Delbert Belton’s family, a second tragedy is that of the alleged killers, “two young men whose lives and the lives of their families are ruined by criminal activity.”
“We have a collective responsibility to make sure these types of events don’t happen and that our children don’t wind up in these situations,” Chief Straub said. “Where families can’t get it together, the community has to.” He plans to set up a mentoring program as part of that “collective responsibility”, to ensure that in the future, good role models – people, perhaps with the same resilience and generosity of spirit as Delbert Belton – can offer support and guidance to young people on the verge of terrible decisions.