Local News

Decade after quadruple homicide in Durham, families await justice

Posted November 19, 2015 6:33 p.m. EST
Updated November 19, 2015 11:25 p.m. EST

— Marsha Harris' son and nephew were killed a decade ago, and she continues to wait for someone to be convicted of the crime.

Lennis Harris Jr., 24, and Jonathan Skinner, 26, were two of four men killed in a townhouse at 2222 Alpine Road on Nov. 19, 2005.

Investigators have described it as one of the most disturbing crime scenes they have ever come across. Harris, Skinner, Harris' roommate, Juan Coleman, 27, and friend Jamel Holloway, 27, were all shot execution-style in an upstairs bedroom of the townhouse.

Two other people were injured jumping out of a second-story window to escape.

Neighbors said they saw at least three men running from the home after the shooting.

A year later, Rodrick Vernard Duncan, now 36, was arrested and charged with four counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of attempted robbery in the case.

Duncan still hasn't gone to trial in the case, however. Shortly after his arrest, he was convicted on unrelated drug charges and served eight years in federal prison.

He returned to the Durham County jail this year, where he is awaiting a murder trial that prosecutors now say could come next September. Prosecutors haven't yet said whether they plan to seek the death penalty.

By then, it will be almost 11 years since her son's death, and Marsha Harris said she plans to be at Duncan's trial.

"I'm the voice for my son, but I have put it in my heart to forgive him for the role he may have played," she said.

Police Chief Jose Lopez inherited the quadruple-homicide case when he came to Durham in 2007. He insists the investigation remains active, despite a lack of leads or other arrests.

"This police department has never forgotten those young men who died," Lopez said. "We want to make sure everyone involved is brought to justice, and we think the community can do it for us."

Investigators say the killings were drug-related, and Lopez said fear of reprisal could be holding people back from providing information to police.

"I know there are people in this community who know a lot about what happened," he said. "It’s going to take people in the community to come forward to say, 'This is what I know.' Even if they think it’s not significant, it may be significant to us, or it may be that piece that links to other pieces in the puzzle."

Harris described her son as happy-go-lucky and said he and the others had a promising future.

"Many people knew them. They made a difference, and people loved them," she said. "They were all good men. They all had the potential to do well."

The passage of time hasn't lessened the pain of the violent deaths of her son, her nephew and their friends, she said.

"The hole in my heart is still there," she said. "I may be walking and see a young man may have something on my son would wear, and for that instant, that pain comes right back."

But she has learned to deal with the pain and loss.

"You have to choose to live when someone dies because, if you don’t, you’ll succumb to the same thing," she said.

Lopez, who will step down at the end of the year, said the case file is often reviewed by "fresh eyes" of investigators from within and outside the police department for a possible break. He has promised Harris that his successor will continue working the case.

"We can’t give up hope. We’ve made arrests in 20-year-old cases," he said.

Harris said she doesn't dwell on the lack of arrests.

"I put it all in God's hands when it happened, and that's where I'll have to leave it," she said.