Richard Charles Duncan, 61, was executed by lethal injection on 3 December 2003 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of his partner's parents.
On 7 October 1987, Ken High found his parents dead in their home. John High, 71, was lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. His wife, Ruth, 73, was in bed. Ken High also observed a gas odor in the house. A gas cooker was connected behind the washing machine, with the valve open. Police originally thought that Mr. High had fallen and struck his head while attempting to light the cooker, and that both he and Mrs. High asphyxiated from the gas fumes. However, an autopsy showed that John High had been beaten on the head with a blunt object. He also had several broken ribs, and cuts on his arms, which the examiner called "defensive wounds." Ruth High had been smothered. A book was next to her on the bed, suggesting that she had fallen asleep while reading, but her reading glasses were across the room. Both of the High's wills were found open on Mr. High's desk. The autopsy report stated that Mr. High died three hours after Mrs. High.
Richard Duncan, 45 was the police's prime suspect in the couple's murder. Duncan was the longtime homosexual partner and business partner of the High's younger son, Gary. However, police never found the murder weapon and did not have enough evidence to charge Duncan, so the case remained unsolved for seven years.
Duncan and Gary High lived together with a third man, Robert Alexander, and also had a homosexual relationship with him. In August 1993, Alexander made a phone call to the Houston Police Department. He was no longer involved with Duncan and High and said that he wanted to clear his conscience. Alexander was granted immunity. In taped telephone conversations between himself and Duncan, who was living in Seattle, Duncan made incriminating statements that resulted in his arrest in February 1994.
After his arrest, Duncan told police that Ruth High had complained to him about her husband's deteriorating health, and she asked him to make arrangements for both of them to be killed. He said that he paid a man named Oscar Rodriguez $5,000 to kill the Highs in what he called "mercy killings." Duncan said that he told Robert Alexander that he killed the Highs himself in order to protect Rodriguez. Investigators could not confirm whether Oscar Rodriguez was a real person or a fictitious one.
At Duncan's trial, Alexander testified that he, Duncan, and Gary High lived together as a "family" where Duncan was the head. Duncan and Gary's computer business had run into financial difficulties, he stated, and Duncan speculated about killing the Highs so that Gary could claim his share of the High's $550,000 estate. Alexander testified that Duncan had discussed using a gas cooker to make the deaths appear accidental. On 7 and 8 October 1987, while High and Alexander were in Seattle looking for work, Duncan called to inform them that he had killed John and Ruth High. "I did it. I've done it. They're gone," he said Duncan told him over the phone. "They are at peace now. And oh God, Robert, John fought me. He fought me really hard." Finally, Alexander testified that he, Duncan, and High met after the murders to devise a common story to tell the police.
In addition to Alexander's testimony, Duncan's confession, and Duncan's taped telephone conversations with Alexander, the High's neighbor, Kyle Christoffel, also testified. Christoffel stated that on the morning after the murders, Duncan told him that John High purchased a gas cooker, hooked it up to an outlet in the utility room, turned it on to light it, became entangled on the hose, and then tripped and fell.
Prosecutors said the autopsy report showed that after Duncan murdered Mrs. High, he waited in the house for three hours for her husband to come home from work. This, they said, proved that the murders were premeditated.
Duncan had no prior criminal history.
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