In this April 15, 2014 photo, authorities investigate a homicide in Denver. Richard Kirk is being held for investigation of first-degree murder in the death of his wife in their Denver home. Police are investigating whether marijuana played a role in the killing. Police officers arrived just after Kristine Kirk was shot in the head Monday, April 14, 2014, about 15 minutes after she called 911. (RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file)

Colorado murder trial set for March 2017; marijuana intoxication could be key factor in insanity defense

Trial for Richard Kirk in Observatory Park slaying set for March after delays for mental health evaluation

The trial for Richard Kirk, who is accused of shooting and killing his wife, Kristine, in April 2014 at their Observatory Park home, is set for March 6, 2017.

Kirk’s trial on a first-degree murder charged had been delayed because a judge had ordered a mental health evaluation to determine whether Kirk was competent to stand trial.

Richard Kirk
Richard Kirk (Denver Police Department)

That report has been written but was not discussed Thursday morning when Kirk appeared in Denver County court for a status hearing. The report is confidential, said Lynn Kimbrough, a spokeswoman for Denver’s district attorney.

However, the fact that a trial date was set means no mental health issues were discovered that would prevent the trial from moving forward.

Weeks before his trial was scheduled to begin in 2015, Kirk’s attorneys changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity from not guilty, citing marijuana intoxication. That plea remains in place.

Richard Kirk had purchased and partially eaten marijuana-infused candy before the shooting on April 14, 2014. The couple’s three sons were at home. Before the shooting, Kristine Kirk called 911 to ask for help. She was scared of her husband, who was ranting and jumping in and out of windows, according to previous reports.

Kirk’s attorneys have indicated they might argue that marijuana intoxication played a key role in the shooting. They have filed motions disclosing their strategy and have hired experts to evaluate the case. Combined, the reports suggest the THC in Kirk’s system triggered a psychotic episode.

Because Kirk intended to use an insanity defense, Denver District Court Judge Martin Egelhoff ordered a mental health evaluation of Kirk at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.

But the evaluation got caught in a backlog of cases at the state’s mental health institute. It took months for the evaluation to happen and for the report to be written.

Prosecutors have argued that Kirk made a conscious decision to kill his wife because of financial and emotional issues in their marriage.

In May, the Kirk’s three sons filed a lawsuit against the company that made the edible pot candy and the store that sold it to their father. The lawsuit said the manufacturer and store failed to warn Kirk about the bite-sized candy’s potency and possible side effects — including hallucinations and other psychotic behaviors.

Representatives from both sides of the Kirk family were in the courtroom on Thursday but declined comment. As Kirk left the courtroom he flashed an “I love you” hand gesture to his brother.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com