By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
After school, 14-year-old Ted Stubbs rode his bike a mile down Galveston's oyster-shell roads to visit his Catholic-school classmate David Hisey. They both lived in Fish Village, a cluster of streets a few blocks up from the seawall, all named after tuna and trout. David had a record player, and Ted didn't. They rode the go-cart David had rigged with a lawn-mower engine, slicked back their hair with Vitalis, listened to music and talked about girls. It was the 1960s, and they discussed emergency escape plans in case of fire, hurricane or nuclear war.
Ted's dad had had a heart attack and was hospitalized. Worried about his father, Ted asked David what he would do if his parents got sick and died.
David said when his parents died, he was going to put them in the back bedroom, close the door and leave them there.
Ted told David he couldn't keep his parents' dead bodies in the house forever. Eventually someone would find them.
That's what this is for, David said. Reaching beneath the brown leather couch, he pulled out a double-barreled shotgun and pointed it at Ted. He showed Ted that it was loaded: One shell was for the police officer, and the other shell was for himself.
David's mother had been lying down with a headache. She walked into the living room and asked David what was going on.
I'm just telling Ted about the plan, Ted remembers David saying. You aren't supposed to tell anybody about the plan, Sunnye Hisey yelled at her son.
Ted walked out the screen door of the squat white bungalow and into the middle of Marlin Road. As he passed the camphor tree, Ted heard David's mother screaming that David was going to be grounded for a long, long time.
Ted never went back to David's house. He soon transferred out of their all-boys private school to Ball High School, graduated from the University of Texas and went to medical school. Almost 40 years later, Ted heard that David was in jail. "That didn't seem like a place David should be," Ted says.
On the morning of April 1, 2002, Ted, now a 53-year-old retired cardiologist, says he was having a cup of coffee and reading The Galveston Daily News online when he discovered that David's capital murder trial was scheduled to commence that day.
David had executed the plan.
Is David a devoted son who carried out his parents' last wishes? Or did he coldly kill his elderly parents, murdering them for their money?
Neighbors say David was so dedicated to his parents' welfare, he sometimes slept in a chair outside their bedroom so he could be nearby if they needed him.
His cousin Dusti Blalock says David was a charming liar, bouncing from job to job, always hitting her up for money, but always making her laugh. She says he loved and respected Sunnye and Hollis too much to murder them. She says they were old and unhealthy and died of natural causes. Sunnye was 85 and had Alzheimer's and severe heart disease. Hollis was 91 and had heart, lung and kidney disease. If David did kill them, Dusti says, it was an act of kindness.
"If I get in that bad a shape, I want my kids to do me in," Dusti says. "I don't feel like David killed them, and if he did, it was out of compassion."
David's ex-wife, Patsy Meier, however, described him darkly to detectives as an emotionally and verbally abusive man. She testified that when he got drunk, he made her sit completely still in a chair; she said she didn't move because she was afraid of him.
The prosecutor, Galveston County Assistant District Attorney Mo Ibrahim, says David squandered his parents' life savings, then strangled them.
David's defense attorney, Tucker Graves, says that after Sunnye died in her sleep, Hollis refused to be separated from her. When Hollis died, nearly a year later, Graves says, David didn't call the authorities because he couldn't explain Sunnye's mummified corpse.
Graves says money was not a motivation for murder, because most of the money was spent before David's parents died. Besides, David had power of attorney, was the sole heir and would have received it all.
As for David, well, some of it is hard to tell. Wearing an enigmatic half-smile, he sits in the county jail and says his parents both died in their sleep. He insists that he carried out their last wishes.
"I told them I'd keep them together, and I kept them together," David says. "They never wanted to be separated."
What the prosecution and defense agree on is that David spent at least $500,000 of his parents' money and lived with their corpses until they were discovered Labor Day weekend two years ago. After they died, David continued cashing and spending their social security and retirement checks.
And although a jury has already found him guilty and sentenced him to 43 years in prison, for many people that verdict didn't settle anything.
Did he murder them? Or did he just do the wrong thing after they died?
Sunnye Hisey was known as a warm, loving person, so forcibly affectionate that when David's cousin Dusti pulled away from a hug or a kiss, her aunt Sunnye smacked her. A secretary for an architecture firm, Sunnye baked lemon meringue pies for new neighbors, and if she saw someone mowing his lawn, she brought him a cool glass of juice. "When they named her Sunnye, they named her right," says her sister-in-law Clara Hisey. "That's the way she always came to be, just sweet and smiling."