After more than decade, man pleads guilty to gunning down four in Durham home
Posted August 23, 2016 12:23 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:38 p.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — A Durham man will spend at least 36 years in prison after pleading guilty Tuesday to executing four men in a Durham townhouse in 2005 in a drug dispute.
Rodrick Vernard Duncan, now 36, pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree murder and one count each of attempted first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon as part of a plea deal. He received consecutive sentences of 219 to 269 months in prison and will receive credit for the 19 months he's been in jail awaiting trial.
Cousins Lennis Harris Jr., 24, and Jonathan Skinner, 26, along with Harris' roommate, Juan Coleman, 27, and friend Jamel Holloway, 27, were shot in the head in an upstairs bedroom of a townhouse at 2222 Alpine Road on Nov. 19, 2005.
Another man was wounded as he ran off, and a sixth man jumped out of a second-floor window to escape.
Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols said three masked men burst into the townhouse that night and robbed those inside in addition to taking a stash of marijuana. Harris, Skinner, Coleman and Holloway were then ushered upstairs, ordered to lie down and were shot several times each, Echols said.
Duncan was arrested in October 2006, but police have never named any other suspects in the crime, despite investigating for more than a decade.
The case was delayed for so long, in part, because Duncan was convicted shortly after his arrest on unrelated drug charges and then served eight years in federal prison.
Relatives of the four slain men wept as they berated Duncan in court and begged him to tell them why he killed their sons, nephews and brothers. Echols noted that Duncan was a close friend of Coleman and knew some of the others.
"He was your best friend. Did you have so much hate in your heart for him? I just don't understand," said Sandra Coleman, Coleman's mother. "You would come over to my home, eat my food, drive my car, and you just go over and take his life and his friends' lives, and for what?
"I don't understand how a man can shoot people that they know, that they grew up with, that you have laughed and played with as children," Lennis Harris Sr. said. "What kind of a human being can do that?"
Harris said he was headed to the townhouse that night but was held up in traffic at the Streets at Southpoint mall. By the time he got home, he learned his son had been shot.
"My pain, I wish I was in there because I wouldn't be living the hell I'm living," he said.
Marsha Harris, Lennis Harris Jr.'s mother and Skinner's aunt, said she has worked hard over the years to forgive Duncan, and she asked him to learn from his crimes and turn his life around in prison.
"I don't think the purpose in your life is to be a murderer," she said. "It's not too late. You can turn it around. Let them see God has given you another chance."
On what would have been Holloway's 38th birthday, his mother, Gloria Washington, also forgave Duncan.
"I’m going to forgive this young man because the Lord knows my heart," Washington said. "I’m going to love him because I want to do what’s right, but I’m praying for him because he has a mother."
Duncan sat quietly and looked on with little emotion as the victims' relatives spoke, and he declined to make any statement of his own.
"He doesn't feel any statement he could make would honor the memories of these young men. He accepts full responsibility," defense attorney Amos Tyndal said, saying Duncan "is as remorseful as any person I've represented."