Travis Belt sat reclined in a black and white jail jumpsuit, periodically folding his hands on top of his head, as a forensic scientist testified DNA found a few feet from the body of Steve Carlson matched the defendant.
At Wednesday’s conclusion of the three-day preliminary hearing, McPherson County District Court Judge John Klenda bound 25-year-old Belt over for trial.
Arraignment was set for 11 a.m. Sept. 8.
Belt is charged with first-degree murder, or in the alternative premeditated first-degree murder, along with burglary and two counts of theft; one from allegedly stealing a TV, printer, roof rack and speakers at Walmart that night. Police believe a knife was stolen as well.
Police went to 58-year-old Carlson’s home on April 13, the day prior to his body being found in the dining room, looking for Belt after the items were stolen from Walmart. Police identified the Walmart getaway vehicle as Carlson’s 1998 GMC work truck.
A McPherson detective testified he knew that truck well because of Carlson being a drug dealer, and surveillance was done frequently at his home, 548 Eshelman.
Body camera footage from McPherson police officer Trevor Cole showed Carlson invite police in to peruse through the home. The footage showed police recover the roof rack from a closet and the white work truck back in the garage.
Family embraced each other in the courtroom as the video showed what is likely the last footage of Carlson alive. He told police he let Belt borrow the truck and that he just chased off Belt and others from his home using a sword minutes before they arrived around 10:45 p.m.
More than one person testified to people smoking methamphetamine that day at Carlson’s multilevel home with wood floors.
While testimony never showed where Belt went after leaving Carlson’s, it did steer toward him finding his way back.
Belt appeared back at the Hidden Ghetto, a nickname for a trailer park between Hickory and Kelly streets, within a couple hours, witnesses Samuel Ratzlaff and Sarah Allen said.
Allen testified she was woken by Belt asking to “burn something” in a fire pit behind her trailer. DNA testing on a charred pair of underwear Allen turned over to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation matched that of Belt.
A few hours after burning the clothes, Belt went over to Chris Gonzalez’s nearby trailer. Belt, along with Gonzalez and Craig Shelton, then tried to trade a TV for money or drugs to Timothy Schrock.
Schrock testified he realized the TV was one he gave to Carlson. Schrock did not make any trade with the three men.
Shelton testified to going to Schrock’s home, but changed Belt to a man named Travis Myer. Shelton, who testified in a jail jumpsuit that meth made his memory shaky, pointed Belt out of a lineup as the person he knew as Travis Myer, police said.
Shelton said Gonzalez and “Myer” talked about burying a body. Word began to circulate around the trailer park about the killing of Carlson his home 2.5 miles away.
So much, that Steven Ratzlaff, Samuel Ratzlaff's brother, went over to the home. Steven Ratzlaff testified to walking around the home and seeing Carlson’s body. He never reported it.
Curiosity got to Shelton, who rode his bicycle over to the home that night. He noticed obvious signs of break in and, eventually, found Carlson’s body on the dining room floor with cuts to his throat and a puddle of blood surrounding Carlson on the wood floor. Carlson’s pockets were turned inside out and credit cards surrounded the body.
Shelton rode to the First Street Liquor and called 911.
A drop of blood on the wood floor of an entryway, blood on the bathroom floor and faucet all contained Belt’s DNA, according to the KBI. Near the kitchen sink, a towel contained DNA from Carlson and Belt.
KBI Senior Special Agent Jeff Newsum said while interviewing Belt on April 15 he noticed cuts on the hands of Belt. Newsum testified Belt said the cuts were from working on a car.
In a case involving a knife, Newsum said he looks for cuts on someone’s hands since knives rarely have a guard to protect their hands from slipping and being cut by the blade.
The knife was never found.
Newsum testified that during interrogations Belt said he burnt the clothes because it was what he wore to Walmart. The special agent also read the autopsy report that said Carlson died from sharp force injuries to the neck.
Newsum read his Miranda Rights to Belt on April 16. Items belonging to Carlson were found at the Belt’s mother’s home in Little River. Other belongings of Carlson’s were found behind Gonzalez’s trailer, including a shop vac that had the initials EMI.
Carlson owned a company called Electrical Maintenance & Installation. Carlson’s truck was found a couple blocks from Gonzalez’s trailer.
“This was a violent killing,” County Attorney Torrance Parkins said in his closing arguments, while Belt sat reclined with his hands folded. “This was not an accident.”
Judge Klenda agreed probable cause existed.
Belt, holding back tears, kissed his mother then gave her a hug before being shackled.
Belt is the son of Douglas Belt, who died while on death row on April 13, 2016. Douglas Belt, also known as the “I-70 rapist,” murdered Lucille Gallegos in 2004. Police never found the head of the Wichita woman.