Arrest made in Spokane beating death of WWII vet
(CNN) — A juvenile has been arrested by Spokane police in connection with the beating death of an 88-year-old World War II veteran this week, police said Friday.
The male suspect has been charged with first-degree robbery and first-degree murder.
The man — Delbert Belton — was beaten and left for dead by two teens outside a lounge in Spokane, Washington, where he loved to go play pool.
The motive? Police don’t have one. The teens appeared to have picked him at random, authorities say.
A retired aluminum company worker who served in the Pacific, Belton, friends say, took a bullet in the leg during the Battle of Okinawa. He survived that attack.
But on Wednesday night, Belton — affectionately called “Shorty” by friends for his height — headed to the Eagles Lodge, where he was a regular.
Police found him in the parking lot, with serious head injuries.
The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office on Friday said the cause of the death was blunt facial and head injuries. It also said in a news release that the manner of Belton’s Thursday death was homicide.
“It does appear random,” Spokane police Lt. Mark Griffiths told reporters. “It appears he was assaulted in the parking lot and there was no indication that he would have known these people prior to the assault.”
Officers had been using dogs to search for the suspects, swept for fingerprints on the chain link fence in the area where they were last seen headed, and scoured through surveillance tapes.
It’s the second time in a week that a seemingly random attack by teenagers has claimed a life.
On August 16, a 23-year-old Australian baseball player attending college in Oklahoma was gunned down in the town of Duncan.
One of three teens police arrested in that shooting said they carried it out because “we were bored and didn’t have anything to do.”
‘All there is is bad news’
The randomness of the two attacks was not lost on Ted Denison, who’s been friends with Belton for a long time.
“It’s really depressing,” Denison told CNN late Thursday night. “Seems that all there is is bad news.”
The two men met more than 20 years ago and worked on cars together.
“We were mechanic buddies,” the 42-year-old Denison said. “We just kind of kicked right along.”
But the friends also hung out together outside the garage.
“We went dancing on Saturday nights,” Denison said. “We went out to breakfast together.”
Belton stopped by the Eagles Lodge two or three times a week. He played pool, but by his own admission, wasn’t too good at it.
“He went up there and played pool, met with some of the guys he used to work with at Kaiser Aluminum,” where he was employed more than 30 years, Denison said.
His wife died several years ago. The World War II veteran is survived by a son, 65.
‘It didn’t seem real’
Barbara Belton, Delbert Belton’s daughter-in-law, told CNN’s Alina Machado in a phone interview that Delbert’s friends first called her about the attack.
The news was shocking and disorienting.
“It’s almost like you’re not really focusing in on what they’re saying,” she said from the Spokane area. “It didn’t seem real.”
Later, she said, an intensive care unit doctor told her that he had been beaten so badly, doctors “couldn’t stop the bleeding.”
She broke the bad news to Belton’s son: her husband, William, who is suffering from cancer and happened to be in the hospital
“He was upset,” she said. “It’s a terrible way to have to die.”
Asked what she would say to the perpetrators, she said: “What motivates you to do such a horrendous thing to an old man?”
“He didn’t drive a big fancy car. He didn’t dress in expensive clothes. He didn’t have a lot of money. He had very little money,” she said. “What did they think they were going to get from this man?”
Waiting for a friend
On Wednesday night, Belton was outside the lodge waiting for a friend because he didn’t want her to walk home alone, Lillian Duncan told The Spokesman-Review newspaper.
“He was so awesome,” Duncan told the paper. “Anybody that didn’t get to know him missed out on a wonderful angel in their life.”
Outside the lodge Thursday, friends and strangers alike left flowers, flags and messages for Belton.
Belton never had problems outside the lodge before — no threats, no altercations, Denison said.
“If he had, I would have made sure I was there.”