Denver Killer Drops Marijuana Motive for Killing His Wife, Pleads Guilty to Second Degree Murder

By Paul Gaita 02/09/17

Richard Kirk allegedly ingested a "marijuana candy" three hours before murdering his wife in 2014.  

Defendant standing before judge.

A Colorado man accused of killing his wife has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on February 3—vacating his long-held claim that marijuana-induced insanity drove him to shoot her in front of their children.

On April 14, 2014, Denver resident Richard Kirk's erratic behavior—climbing in and out of windows and screaming about the end of the world for 30 to 40 minutes—alarmed his wife, Kristine, enough to call 911.

According to a probable cause statement, she told the dispatcher during the 12-minute call that Kirk had consumed what she called "marijuana candy" about three hours earlier, and was now "hallucinating" and frightening their three children, asking her to shoot him with a gun they kept in a safe in their home.

Moments later, Kristine Kirk reported that her husband had retrieved the gun, and began to scream. Gunshots rang out and, as the detective who reviewed the dispatch noted, "the victim was not heard on the call again."

Denver police later found Kristine Kirk dead from a gunshot wound to the head. A receipt for a pre-rolled joint and a partially consumed marijuana edible, both purchased at a local dispensary, were also found at the crime scene.

Though the document claimed that Kirk admitted to an officer "without questioning" that he had killed his wife during the 911 call, he pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, and changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity five weeks before the trial was scheduled to take place in 2015.

His attorneys filed a motion in September 2015 suggesting the murder was the result of THC intoxication or involuntary insanity caused by ingestion of the marijuana edible.

Prosecutors, however, argued that the level of THC detected in Kirk's system—2.3 nanograms per milliliter of blood—did not constitute legal intoxication, and pointed instead to a series of emotional and financial strains on the marriage as more likely motivations for the killing. A few weeks before her death, Kristine Kirk reportedly told a co-worker that she was "scared" of her husband.

The Kirk case became a touchstone for marijuana opponents in Colorado, who cited it along with the death of college study Levy Thamba—who fell to his death from a hotel balcony that same year after consuming a pot cookie—as concrete proof of the dangers of edibles.

But hopes for renewed scrutiny on the Colorado marijuana industry was nullified, now that Kirk has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder; in exchange, prosecutors dropped the first-degree murder charge.

A press release from a Denver District Attorney's Office stated that Kirk will serve a "definite term of between 25 and 30 years" for the crime and pay a fine of between $5,000 and $10,000. He will also remain on five years' mandatory parole after his release from prison, and has consented to the adoption of his three children by his late wife's parents.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.