Nobody really knows what was on Thomas Houck’s mind as he idly watched his elderly father starve to death and his mother nearly do the same in late 2011.
But a Common Pleas Court judge saw enough last week to declare the former Academy Gardens resident mentally ill and guilty of third-degree murder.
Houck, 59, preempted his trial by pleading no contest to the murder charge on Jan. 7. The District Attorney’s Office had offered him the chance to plead guilty by reason of insanity, but the defendant declined because “he didn’t want to say ‘guilty,’ ” Assistant D.A. Lorraine Donnelly said after the court hearing.
The effect of the no contest plea is the same as a guilty plea would’ve been. Houck will remain behind bars pending additional psychological examinations. He is to be sentenced on March 7 by Judge Linda Carpenter. Houck faces up to 20 to 40 years in prison. By law, the judge must order a state prison sentence, although she may recommend that Houck be assigned to SCI Waymart in the far northeastern corner of the state, which specializes in accommodating mentally ill convicts, Donnelly said.
The DA’s office agrees with the mentally ill designation, according to the prosecutor. The DA opted not to pursue additional charges, including theft, abuse of corpse and reckless endangerment.
Authorities found the remains of Leonard Houck, 82, on Dec. 26, 2011, inside the family’s home on the 3400 block of Kirkwood Road. The younger Houck, who lived with his parents, had summoned paramedics to the home that day to treat his ailing mother Doris. Medics spotted the unresponsive Leonard Houck lying on the living room floor atop a soiled mattress. A medical examiner later determined that he had died within the previous day or two from malnutrition and dehydration. His 5-foot, 7-inch frame weighed 79 pounds.
Paramedics found Doris Houck upstairs. She was also malnourished, weighing 92 pounds, and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. She recovered physically and now lives with relatives.
According to Donnelly, homicide investigators found two cans of tuna, a loaf of bread and cake mix in the house, but little else in the way of food. Thomas Houck was relatively nourished.
“He was certainly eating enough to stay alive,” the prosecutor said.
Houck held the deed of the home, which previously belonged to his parents, and controlled his parents’ financial accounts, although, “There is no evidence he was lavishly spending (their) money at this time,” Donnelly said.
According to prior court testimony, the defendant’s sister and brother-in-law had tried to check in on the parents, but he routinely turned them away and had changed the locks on the house.
According to Donnelly, Thomas Houck had a falling out with his sister and brother-in-law and had not allowed them to see the parents for three years. Authorities believe Thomas Houck had a deteriorating mental state during that period, Donnelly said. ••