Northeast Times

Man could face 20 to 40 years for starving parents

Thomas Houck

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. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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