From 2005: Fulton pursues death for Midtown bar killer

NOTE: This article originally published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Jan. 11, 2005.

Fulton County prosecutors and murder defendant Howard Milton Belcher — by his own remarks in court — agree he should get the death penalty.

Belcher, 26, is serving life plus 20 years for a murder in Paulding County. Monday it became Fulton County's turn to try him for murder.

Authorities contend Belcher strangled at least three men in October 2002; he was seen with them at different times at a bar in Midtown.

Fulton County prosecutors served notice Monday that they will seek the death penalty for the Oct. 5, 2002, slaying of Mark Schaller, 40, found strangled in his northeast Atlanta home.

At his Fulton Superior Court arraignment for murder, felony murder, aggravated battery and auto theft Monday, Belcher said he wanted to die.

"I want the death penalty," he told Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore, when asked if he accepted court-appointed defense lawyers Akil Secret and Bob Citronberg. "I don't really want an attorney," Belcher said.

The judge refused his request and, following court procedures, ordered that another judge be drawn since she already is handling a death penalty case.

District Attorney Paul Howard's spokesman Erik Friedly said a new judge likely would be picked by computer in a few days. "It could well be a ploy, but we don't take it very seriously," Assistant DA David Cooke said of Belcher's remarks.

Authorities contend that Belcher met Schaller and his other victims at the Bulldogs bar in Midtown. They contend he killed at least three men he met there during a period of three weeks.

Belcher is serving life plus 20 years for the murder of Matthew Abney, 43, the assistant manager of a Paulding County Wal-Mart, who he met at Bulldogs. Abney was bound and strangled at his home five days after Schaller's slaying, authorities said.

Belcher is charged in DeKalb County for the murder of Leroy Tyler, 27, found dead at his home on North Indian Creek Drive. Tyler died of "ligature strangulation," DeKalb homicide Detective Tom Stewart said, giving no further details.

Belcher was investigated in the death of Artilles McKinney, 35, of Duluth, found dead Oct. 30, 2002, in the bedroom of his Mulberry Way home, according to Duluth police Capt. Mark Hunter. College Park police arrested Belcher driving McKinney's 1994 Lexus, but he was never charged "because the medical examiner can't conclude this was a homicide," Hunter said.

Gwinnett County Medical Examiner's Investigator Ted Bailey said a "definitive" cause of death could not be determined because McKinney's body was "in the early stages of decomposition."

In Other News