Killer Who Blamed Marijuana Pleads Guilty to Second-Degree Murder

A Denver man who shot his wife after eating cannabis candy agrees to a sentence of 25 to 30 years.


Denver Police Department

Richard Kirk, the Denver man who almost single-handedly revived the old-timey notion of marijuana-induced violence by killing his wife after eating cannabis candy in 2014, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last Friday. His deal with prosecutors calls for a sentence of 25 to 30 years, followed by five years of parole. Kirk also agreed to surrender custody of his three children, who will be raised by their maternal grandparents.

The children were at home on the evening of April 14, 2014, when Kristine Kirk called 911 to report that her husband was acting oddly after eating THC-treated taffy. She said he was raving about the end of the world, hopping in and out of windows, and asking her to kill him. Instead he shot her in the head with a gun he retrieved from a safe.

In addition to the body and the gun, police found a partially eaten piece of Karma Kandy Orange Ginger taffy, which Kirk had purchased around 6:30 p.m. at Nutritional Elements, a marijuana store on South Colorado Boulevard in Denver. The shooting happened just a few months after state-licensed marijuana merchants began serving recreational customers in Colorado, and it figured prominent in early coverage of legalization.

Kirk initially pleaded not guilty, then switched to not guilty by reason of insanity. In a report submitted by the defense in August 2015, a physician said the THC that Kirk ingested had triggered a psychosis-mimicking delirium. The relevance of that conclusion to Kirk's defense was unclear, however, since under Colorado law "the voluntary ingestion of alcohol or any other psychoactive substance" cannot be the basis of an insanity defense. Rather, a defendant must show that a "mental disease or defect" rendered him "incapable of distinguishing right from wrong" or incapable of "forming a culpable mental state."

Last year Kristine Kirk's sister and parents sued Nutritional Elements and Gaia Gardens, which made the candy Richard Kirk ate the night of the murder, arguing that they failed to adequately warn him about the hazards of consuming too much. According to Richard Kirk's public defender (who was later replaced by a private attorney), the clerk at Nutritional Elements, after learning that Kirk was an inexperienced user, did caution him against taking too large a dose, and Kirk ate more than recommended. It's not clear exactly how much. The entire taffy contained 100 milligrams of THC, which state regulators count as 10 doses. But Kirk did not eat the whole thing, and when his blood was tested after the murder the THC concentration was just 2.3 nanograms per milliliter, less than half the level that is presumed to impair drivers under state law (but which may not in fact indicate impairment, especially in regular users). Assuming Kirk was an infrequent cannabis consumer, it is still possible that he ingested enough THC to have an unpleasant experience. But bad trips rarely end in homicide.

The lawsuit nevertheless argues that Nutritional Elements and Gaia Gardens had a duty to warn Kirk that too much THC can trigger paranoia, hallucinations, and psychosis. It says the defendants "negligently, recklessly and purposefully concealed vital dosage and labeling information from their actual and prospective purchasers, including Kirk, in order to make a profit." At the time of Kirk's purchase, edible manufacturers were required either to list the THC content of each product on the package or indicate that the product had not been tested. New regulations approved after the murder mandate THC testing, impose a 100-milligram limit on the amount of THC in a single package, and require that each 10-milligram dose be wrapped separately or clearly marked.

The rules, which took effect in February 2015, do not mandate the sort of warnings about psychiatric side effects that Kristine Kirk's relatives say are necessary. But they do require a warning about the lag between ingesting an edible and feeling its effects: "The intoxicating effects of this product may be delayed by two or more hours." The lawsuit argues that Richard Kirk ate too much taffy because he did not realize how long the delay might be.

Kristine's relatives say Richard Kirk did not intend to kill her and had no way of knowing how he would react to the THC-treated taffy. Police argued that Kirk knowingly and deliberately killed his wife, with whom he had been fighting bitterly for weeks.

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  1. “I didn’t intend to kill her, your honor. InBev never warned me that drinking alcohol could lower my inhibitions.”

    1. She enticed him and she ridiculed him throughout his lifetime.

  2. He had gotten into bitter arguments with his wife and switched his payroll to a private account a few weeks before the shooting. Obviously it was premeditated. I have to wonder what his job was. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in the mental illness industry.

    1. Why would he need to worry about a private account if he was going to kill his wife?

      1. You’re asking an insane troll to explain its reasoning?

        1. Sure, i’ve got nothing better to do.

      2. Change in plans?

        Probable Deniability?

        He’s just stupid and didn’t think it through?

        Realistically it probably wasn’t premeditated in the sense that he planned it out but it is highly likely that it was intentional

  3. It sounds like the prosecutors needed to do a better job showing that his claims were completely bogus and that he really just wanted to kill his wife and thought this would help him get away with it.

  4. Hell, he ain’t even old-timey.

    1. He’s miscegenated!

  5. Fuck the people using ‘Reefer Madness’ to protect a murderer.

  6. I hope this bitch gets smoked like a blunt in prison.

  7. What a dick

    1. I suspect he’ll be “passed around like a dobie”

  8. According to Richard Kirk’s public defender (who was later replaced by a private attorney), the clerk at Nutritional Elements, after learning that Kirk was an inexperienced user, did caution him against taking too large a dose, and Kirk ate more than recommended.

    That seems like a bad thing for a defense attorney to say.

    1. “Lionel Hutz, court-appointed attorney. I’ll be defending you on the charge of… Murder One! Wow! Even if I lose, I’ll be famous!”

      1. “Mrs Simpson, you’re accused of shoplifting this bottle of…sweet…bourbon. Brownest of the brown liquors! What’s that? You want me to drink you?? But I’m in the middle of a trial!!…….Your Honor, I ask the court for a short recess!”

        1. I remember when the Simpson’s was funny enough to quote.

    2. So you see, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this tragedy only occurred because my client didn’t heed the warning given to him by the clerk…..wait a minute, strike that….

  9. Apparently he worked as a designer for a tiling company.

    1. A mental illness tiling company?

      1. Padded tiles?

  10. People have been eating food laced with pot for ages without killing or even harming anyone. That alone should have squashed his defense. Prosecutors may have ulterior motives for allowing second degree instead of first degree in this case.

    1. Prosecutors may have ulterior motives for allowing second degree instead of first degree in this case.

      That seems like a stretch. Under Colorado law, first degree murder would require proving premeditation, I believe, whereas second degree murder would not. Based on the facts described, first degree murder would be hard to prove unless the guy confessed or something like that, since his wife’s own statements to the 911 operator suggested he was behaving strangely prior to the murder.

  11. So, we are going to be treated to another round of “all drugs turn you into an irresponsible violent swine” hysteria. Wonderful.

    Just once I’d like to see a judge say something like “You have a long history of violent behavior. You have a long history of domestic violence against your late wife. The whole world knows that most recreational drugs interfere with rational thought. You took the drug deliberately. Your plea of second degree is denied. Tell your defense to start working on the assumption that you will be charged with premeditated murder.”

    Of course, I’d also like to see a judge say “You have a fifteen year history of drunk driving. You went to the bar voluntarily. You were on a suspended license. Premeditated murder, and if I get my way you will be executed by being run over multiple times.”

    1. C. S. P. Schofield is tough but fair.

    2. I’d think that a 15 year history of drunk driving without having killed anyone before would be a pretty good defense against the premeditated part.

  12. I attended a conference with health care professionals from all over the US, and one lady (dentist) asked me what I knew about her state of Colorado. I spit out a bunch of factoids, she seemed impressed, then asked me if I knew one negative thing about her state. I said that it’s landlocked – and she was surprised. She thought I was going to talk about their recent legalization of weed, and she started telling me how it’s a disaster – more accidents, more crime, etc. I asked her if cartel violence has gone down, as expected, and she said that the opposite happened, more criminals came to Colorado (maybe due to the ease of buying weed in bulk?) Given that she was my client, I didn’t want to get into a debate with her about the evil of people turning a public health issue into a criminal issue, and how incarcerating someone for having a vice is beyond depraved, but I’m just reporting what I heard. Others (including men) from her delegation were nodding in approval and seemed very unhappy that marijuana was now legal – and would not accept my meek attempts to back the move (laboratories of democracy, natural rights and all that).

  13. The health convention circuit is notoriously hard on gigolos

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