Green River man gets 6 life terms for killing family

2002-09-25T23:00:00Z Green River man gets 6 life terms for killing family The Billings Gazette
September 25, 2002 11:00 pm

Associated Press

GREEN RIVER, Wyo. (AP) - A judge sentenced a carpet layer Wednesday to six life terms for pushing his wife and young son off a 200-foot cliff in 1996 and for soliciting the murder of his parents a couple years later.

A jury last month found James Robert "Bob" Duke, 29, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of soliciting the murder of his wife and son and two counts of soliciting his parents' murders.

Judge Jere Ryckman sentenced Duke to life terms on all six counts, with all but two counts to run consecutively.

While Duke's attorney, LaVoy Taylor, sought concurrent terms, County Attorney Harold Moneyhun urged consecutive life sentences.

"Each and every count with which the defendant has been convicted shows the defendant's willingness to kill a human being, a family member, for selfish, personal gain," Moneyhun said.

After sentencing Duke, Ryckman said: "If there is going to be any rehabilitation, it is going to take a lifetime to do so."

Duke told Ryckman he will appeal.

Prosecutors said Duke killed Liana Mae Duke, 22, and Erik Duke, 5, because he was in an unwanted marriage and did not want to pay child support. The couple married right after high school because Liana Duke was pregnant.

The case struck an emotional chord in Duke's hometown of Green River, population 11,808, where many people knew the young Duke family and were torn over evidence that was largely circumstantial.

Prosecutors said Duke killed his wife and son during a Saturday afternoon outing at Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Even moments before he was sentenced, Duke maintained that what happened was an accident.

"I am sorry that my grief did not meet the expectations of the public. But my thoughts are my thoughts," he said as he read from a prepared statement, referring to testimony that he did not seem to mourn after the deaths of his wife and son.

"If I had anything to hide, I would have accepted a plea bargain and avoided going to trial."

At trial, he testified that he had left his wife and son standing at the cliff's edge while he went to get a soda from his Jeep, which was parked nearby. He said he heard his wife scream while his back was turned.

Investigators at first determined that what happened was an accident. But they never closed the case and the investigation resumed when an old friend of Duke's, Roger Brauburger, told them Duke repeatedly tried to pay him to shoot's Duke's parents to death.

Brauburger also testified that Duke tried to persuade him to kill Liana and Erik, offering as much as $23,000.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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