Pair held for trial in beating death of disabled Harrison man

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A district judge on Friday held the younger brother and a housemate of the late Ronald Duff for trial, after a prosecutor argued that the pair's regular beating of the ailing mentally disabled man led to his death.

Jason Link, 22, and Larry Duff, 56, are charged with homicide, conspiracy and aggravated assault. Larry Duff, who was receiving his brother's Social Security checks to care for him, is also charged with neglect.

Paramedics responding to a report of a cardiac arrest discovered Ronald Duff's badly beaten and emaciated body on Oct. 15 seated on a couch in his brother's Harrison home.

The 60-year-old man had moved into his brother's home about six months before his death after living in a nursing home in Butler County. He shared the house with Larry Duff's daughter, Crystal, and her boyfriend, Mr. Link.

Allegheny County homicide Detective Stephen Hitchings testified at a preliminary hearing Friday that after Mr. Duff's death, Mr. Link said he regularly beat the man because he behaved inappropriately, occasionally eating massive quantities of food, pulling people's hair, throwing things and exposing himself. On occasion, he said he zapped the man with a stun gun to punish him for misbehaving.

The night before his death, Mr. Link said he tried to give Mr. Duff a bowl of soup, but the man threw the bowl. Mr. Link said he beat him in response, then spray-painted his leg and arm with black paint while he was making Halloween decorations.

Detective Hitchings said Mr. Link told him he went upstairs and told Larry Duff what had happened, prompting Larry Duff to go downstairs and yell at his older brother.

Detective Venerando Costa, who interviewed Mr. Duff after his brother's death, said Mr. Duff told police that he also beat his brother in an attempt to punish him for his behavior. He also admitted to striking him the night before his death because he had thrown the bowl of soup. But he changed his story numerous times about the day his brother was found dead, claiming initially that he had fallen down the stairs.

The defendants' attorney testified that while they may have been poor caretakers, there was not enough evidence to say they were responsible for Mr. Duff's death.

"There is no connection to my client ... other than from time-to-time, with no time specified, he would strike [Mr. Duff]," said Richard Narvin, who is representing Mr. Link.

Both men are scheduled to be formally arraigned Dec. 6.

mobilehome - breaking - neigh_north

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published November 2, 2012 12:45 AM


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