Richard Kirk, the Denver man who blamed marijuana for making him kill his wife in 2014, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Friday. Kirk, who originally pleaded not guilty and then changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last February under a deal that called for a sentence of 25 to 30 years.
On the evening that Kirk shot his wife, Kristine, he bought a piece of Karma Candy Orange Ginger taffy from Nutritional Elements, a Denver marijuana store. David Rosen, one of Kirk's defense attorneys, said he was trying to substitute marijuana for the opioids he had been using to treat back pain. Kirk ate only part of the candy, and police said his THC blood level after he was arrested was 2.3 nanograms per milliliter, less than half the concentration at which a driver is presumed to be impaired under Colorado law. Kirk nevertheless insisted he never would have killed his wife if he had not eaten the taffy.
"I did not know it would affect me the way it did," Kirk told the judge who sentenced him. "That's the honest truth, Your Honor. I know with certainty if I did not ingest that marijuana edible, Kris would still be here today."
Rosen said he had been prepared to argue that marijuana made Kirk do it but that his client decided to spare his three sons, who are now 10, 14, and 15, the trauma of a trial. "This would have been a groundbreaking defense," Rosen said.
It is hard to see how the strategy could have succeeded, since Colorado law bars an insanity defense based on "the voluntary ingestion of alcohol or any other psychoactive substance." According to the Associated Press, Kirk's lawyers argued that "he suffered 'involuntary intoxication' because he did not know he was at high risk for marijuana psychosis due to schizophrenia in his extended family."
A lawsuit filed last year by Kristine Kirk's family lent credence to the idea that she would still be alive if her husband had not consumed THC-infused taffy that night. The complaint blames Nutritional Elements and Gaia Gardens, the manufacturer of the candy, for failing to warn consumers that eating too much of it could trigger paranoia, hallucinations, and psychosis. Kirk shot his wife during a 911 call in which she reported that he was behaving bizarrely, talking about the end of the world, and asking her to kill him.
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. The clerk who sold him the taffy warned him to be careful with the dose, recommending that he start with one-tenth of the candy, or 10 milligrams of THC.
Police and prosecutors argued that the murder was the culmination of money-related marital acrimony that had made Kristine Kirk fearful of her husband. They said Richard Kirk knew what he was doing when he killed his wife, noting that he had the presence of mind to remember the code for the safe where he kept his gun, retrieve the weapon, aim it at his wife's head, and pull the trigger.