In February of 2015, Dan Belvin wrote a reminder in his pocket-size calendar.
“Get car keys back!!!! This PM!!!” the 95-year-old penned inside his apartment at a senior living facility in Montgomery County.
The next day, another entry: “By 1000 hrs get Get Car Keys Back!!”
The person with the keys, Eric Dyson, 60, lived down the hall in his father’s unit. He had befriended Belvin, a widower whose dog had recently died and who mostly kept to himself. What Belvin didn’t know: Dyson was a longtime drug offender who had locked in on the 128-pound former naval officer as a source of money to fund a crack binge.
Belvin’s keys were part of an array of evidence against Dyson laid out over six days in a Montgomery courtroom during a trial that on Friday led to a murder conviction. Jurors learned that on Feb. 19 — the same day as Belvin’s second calendar entry about the keys — Dyson got inside Belvin’s apartment and stabbed and slashed him 40 times, nearly decapitating the man who had been on active military duty during World War II and the Korean War.
Dyson fled in Belvin’s 2000 Dodge Intrepid, tossed the murder weapon out the window and repeatedly used Belvin’s debit card to withdraw more than $2,000 over three days of drug use, prosecutors said.
“Eric Dyson took whatever he wanted,” prosecutor Amy Bills told jurors. “And that included a 95-year-old man’s car, a 95-year-old man’s goodwill, a 95-year-old man’s money. And his life.”
The jury deliberated over the course of two days, convicting Dyson of second-degree murder and four counts related to theft and credit-card misuse. As the verdict was read, Dyson sat at the defense table with his hands clasped. He wiped tears away with a tissue.
Family and friends of Belvin — a longtime pilot who still had his flight instructor certificate at age 92 — were in the courtroom, too.
“He was much loved and the last of his generation,” said Belvin’s nephew Bill Belvin.
Jurors chose not to convict Dyson of the more serious count of first-degree murder. In an interview afterward, the jury foreperson said the panel concluded that Dyson didn’t act with premeditation. “It was a frenzy, a rage,” said the juror, who requested anonymity in order to guard her privacy.
The trial also revealed how Dyson — when interrogated by detectives last year — concocted a story that maligned the man he killed. In Dyson’s telling, Belvin made sexual advances and paid Dyson for sex to the point that he snapped. “Exploitation,” he called it.
It was a suspect’s story that detectives pushed along, even if they didn’t believe it, prosecutors said. The detectives brought Dyson to the point of confessing, according to a video recording of the interrogation played for jurors.
“Do you remember where he was stabbed?” Sgt. Larry Haley asked him.
“I think the, down the chest,” said Dyson, who court records say was 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds. “I was just, I just kept swinging. I kept swinging and swinging and swinging.”
Haley later testified, as did Detective Beverely Then. They described the tactic they were employing — one that makes a suspect think he is shifting blame even as he is implicating himself.
“Typically, in an interview such as this, where we’re speaking to the defendant,” Haley said, “we’ll offer him what’s known as an ‘out’ — an ‘out’ being an excuse to rationalize the behavior that led to Mr. Belvin’s death.”
Closing the loop on the story, prosecutor Donna Fenton asked Haley whether there was anything about the case — forensic testing, searches of both men’s apartments — that supported the idea that the men had a sexual relationship.
“There was nothing,” Haley said.
Belvin was born on Jan. 26, 1920; joined the military 20 years later; and was married to his wife, Jane, for 70 years. They moved into the Colesville area of Montgomery, where Belvin regularly walked his dog, Sunny, and liked to feed corn to the deer in the neighborhood.
Jane Belvin died in 2012. Dan Belvin sold their house and moved into a one-bedroom apartment at the Randolph Village Senior Apartments about a mile away. He kept in touch with a small circle of family and friends.
Douglas Belvin, a great-nephew, testified that on Jan. 18, 2015, he and his wife arrived to celebrate his great-uncle’s 95th birthday.
“We told him we’d take him anywhere he wanted to go, and he asked to go to the McDonald’s by the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and Randolph,” Douglas Belvin said.
Fenton asked how ambulatory his great-uncle was.
“When he finished ordering his food,” Douglas Belvin testified, “he had to make small, shuffling steps to turn around and walk back to our table.”
It was during the same period at the retirement home that Belvin met Dyson.
Dyson said he had noticed how Belvin’s car was damaged in the rear and had a flat, and he offered to fix it. Later, speaking with detectives, Dyson said he started driving Belvin to the store in the car and, eventually, Belvin told him, “Here — you hold onto the keys.”
Dyson also told the detectives that Belvin told him he still flew planes, and how Dyson was impressed by that.
“He said, ‘I feel good when I’m up there,’ ” Dyson said. “I said, ‘I can imagine.’ ”
In the interrogation, detectives started asking Dyson about Feb. 18 and Feb. 19, the two days Belvin had scheduled to get his keys.
Dyson acknowledged calling him on the 19th, but he initially denied hurting him. Later, after alleging that Belvin was exploiting him, Dyson admitted to stabbing him, according to the interrogation.
“No matter how good you are, no matter how good you’ve done, there’s always evil present, just waiting,” Dyson said, “just waiting to get at you.”
At the trial, prosecutors called a nephew of Dyson’s, who told jurors about receiving a call from Dyson in February 2015, before the murder. Dyson told him that he wanted to buy drugs and that he could get money from a “vet” who lived in his building, according to the testimony.
“This vet — he was pretty much ready to rob him, put it that way. Take some money from him,” the nephew said.
About a week or two after that conversation, the witness told jurors, he learned that a man had been killed in the building -- and he called police to report the conversation he’d had with his uncle. The nephew was asked why he hadn’t called the police earlier, when he’d purportedly heard about the robbery plan. Murder, he said, was different.
In prosecutors’ closing arguments, they documented more than 73 occasions — from Feb. 19 to Feb. 22 — that Dyson used or tried to use Belvin’s Navy Federal Credit Union card. He was able to get more than $2,000, they said, and embarked on a “crack-filled weekend.”
Dyson’s attorneys, Melanie Creedon and Jennifer Dayton, acknowledged that their client used Belvin’s debit card to get cash for drugs. But they said he was smoking so much crack — miles away from the senior complex — that the last thing he would have done was return to kill Belvin at the time prosecutors said he did.
“He was on a bender,” Creedon told jurors.
In her closing argument, Creedon told jurors that they should dismiss what Dyson said during his interrogation because he had told detectives he wanted to stop speaking. She also discounted a key piece of DNA evidence — traces of Belvin’s DNA found on Dyson’s coat — saying it could have been picked up during an earlier visit.
Creedon also challenged prosecutors’ allegation that Dyson — over the course of just 23 minutes — went into Belvin’s room, killed him and was at a 7-Eleven trying to pull money out of his account.
“It absolutely doesn’t fit the timeline,” she said.
Judge Steven G. Salant set sentencing for July 21. Dyson faces a sentence of at least 70 years, prosecutors said.
Near the end of his interview with police, Dyson said he would end up behind bars. “I’m going to die, going to die in jail,” he said. “It wasn’t supposed to be like that.”