Authorities investigating suspicious death in Harrison Township; brother of dead man in custody
A mentally and physically disabled man who died Monday in Harrison was punched several times in the head and beaten with a wooden stick the day before he died after he spilled a bowl of soup, according to court documents.
Ronald Duff, 61, was found dead about 1:30 p.m. seated upright on a couch inside a home at 112 Blue Ridge Ave. in the Natrona section of Harrison.
Police responded following a 911 call requesting an ambulance for someone in cardiac arrest.
There were bruises, cuts and scratches on Duff's body, which appeared emaciated, according to court documents.
“There was some evidence of trauma,” said Harrison police Chief Mike Klein.
Police have not charged anyone in his death.
Allegheny County Police charged Duff's brother Larry Duff, 56, and Jason Link, 22, with aggravated and simple assault, conspiracy and neglecting to care for a dependent person for allegedly assaulting Ronald Duff on Sunday.
“We determined through the other occupants of the home that Duff and Link routinely beat the victim,” said Allegheny County homicide Lt. Andrew Schurman.
They are each being held in the Allegheny County Jail on $100,000 bond.
Neither Larry Duff nor Link is charged in Ronald Duff's death, and police emphasize the case is still being investigated.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office said an autopsy is expected to be completed Wednesday.
At least three other people were present at the time of the assaults, authorities said. Schurman said it's unlikely, at this point, that they will be charged.
Police said a stroke several years ago left Ronald Duff physically and mentally handicapped. He had been living in a care home, but about six months ago began staying with his brother, police said.
According to a criminal complaint filed to support the charges:
Lisa Duff, Larry Duff's ex-wife, told police that when Ronald Duff spilled a bowl of soup onto the floor Sunday, Link punched him twice in the right temple, causing him to fall back onto the couch he was sitting on.
She said Link spray-painted Ronald Duff's right leg black, then poured water on him.
A short while later, Larry Duff came downstairs and punched his brother twice in the head.
At that point, it appeared Ronald Duff was sleeping on the couch, the other residents told police.
That was when Larry Duff and Link began beating Ronald Duff with a wooden stick kept behind the television set, the criminal complaint states.
Lisa Duff said she also had seen Link use a stun gun on Duff before.
The stick and stun gun were recovered by police.
The wounds on Duff's face and head are consistent with the shape of the stick, which appeared to have blood on it, according to the complaint.
Lisa Duff told police that on Monday she and another resident tried to give Duff a bath, but he was unresponsive so Larry Duff carried him upstairs.
She said she thought Ronald Duff was still breathing while she bathed him and put clean clothes on him. The men then carried him downstairs and put him on the couch.
She told police that Larry Duff “ordered” everyone to tell anyone who asked what happened to his brother to say that he fell down the stairs. He then told Link to call 911.
The Duff brothers are well-known in the Highlands area. Larry and Ronald have a third brother, Robin, while a fourth, William, died in an arson fire in Tarentum in 1990. Two juveniles were charged.
As young men, the brothers were frequently seen riding bicycles and carrying baskets of scrap metal, which they collected and sold to salvage yards.
A neighbor, Terry Geracia, who lives about a block away on Spruce Street, said he's known the Duffs his entire life.
He said he and Larry Duff spoke often because Duff, a mechanic, worked on his vehicle as well as others in the neighborhood.
Before Ronald moved in, Larry Duff would bring his brother home for holidays and birthdays, Geracia said.
“I thought he was a decent person for that,” he said. “I thought he was a good guy, doing what he was doing for his family.”
The home, located near railroad tracks that run parallel to Blue Ridge Avenue, appeared to be rundown. In the back yard, various inflatable toys were strewn around a nearly collapsed swimming pool. The front porch and yard were decorated for Halloween and multiple “no trespassing” and “no parking” signs were posted.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Brian Rittmeyer contributed. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or email@example.com.