Harrison pair will stand trial for murder

Chuck Biedka
| Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 3:44 p.m.

Two Harrison men were ordered Friday to stand trial for abusing a disabled man who died in their now-condemned house last month.

Larry Duff, 56, and Jason Link, 22, both of 112 Blue Ridge Ave., Natrona, are accused in the death of Duff's brother, Ronald, 61.

The men are charged with third-degree murder, aggravated assault, neglect of a care-dependent person, and conspiracy. Tampering with evidence charges against both men have been withdrawn.

Both men, who are pleading not guilty, are in the Allegheny County Jail without bond awaiting trial.

At a preliminary hearing on Friday, Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli said the men probably didn't intend for the victim to die. Investigators could not determine a single cause for Ronald Duff's death, but authorities say the evidence shows Ronald Duff died from cumulative abuse.

Attorneys for Link and Duff failed in their attempts to have the homicide charges be dismissed because a single cause wasn't identified.

Tranquilli said an autopsy revealed an already medically frail Ronald Duff, who largely used hand gestures to communicate after a stroke, had suffered dozen of injuries.

They including to an eye, broken ribs and bleeding on the brain. A county detective testified that Ronald Duff had been administered medicine before he began living in his brother's house, but none was found in the house after his death. He had high blood pressure, clogged heart arteries and fluid in his lungs.

In addition, the victim had lost more than 60 pounds during the six months in which he lived in the dilapidated Natrona house, where he largely stayed in a small, second living room.

Tranquilli said Duff weighed 178 pounds in April when released from Butler Memorial Hospital to stay in his brother's Natrona house, but weighed only 112 pounds when he died in mid-October.

Tranquilli said Larry Duff and Link admitted to spanking, slapping and punching Ronald Duff during the six months because he was often incontinent, exposed himself to Larry Duff's wife and three daughters, and was frequently unruly.

Family members told police they locked up food because Ronald would get up at night and eat a large amount of food.

Link allegedly told police that on the day before Ronald Duff died, Link handed him a bowl of bean soup, only to have the victim throw it at him.Police said Link admitted to punching Ronald Duff and that Larry Duff said he shoved the victim soon after.

Two county detectives said Larry Duff and Link changed their stories about how Ronald Duff died.

The men also said Link and Larry Duff's wife, Lisa, used a 3-foot-long, half-inch-square stick to punish the victim.

Tranquilli said the stick didn't cause serious injuries, but a lab is checking to determine whether Ronald Duff's blood or DNA is on it.Lisa Duff, 39, is facing separate charges of neglect of a care-dependent person, simple assault, and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.

Her preliminary hearing is scheduled next week in Brackenridge.

After the hearing, the suspects' attorneys said they will likely ask the court to appoint an expert to review the autopsy to determine whether Ronald Duff died from his medical conditions, not abuse.

“The autopsy says many things, but not why he died,” said Richard Narvin, Link's attorney. Trial will be scheduled at a later date.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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