The Dutiful Son
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.
Houston Texans vs. Arizona Cardinals
TicketsSun., Nov. 19, 12:00pm
Rice Owls Football vs. North Texas
TicketsSat., Nov. 25, 12:00pm
Houston Texans vs. San Francisco 49ers
TicketsSun., Dec. 10, 12:00pm
Houston Texans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
TicketsMon., Dec. 25, 3:30pm
Houston Open - Good Any One Day Grounds
TicketsSun., Apr. 1, 11:59pm
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."
Dusti says her aunt served spaghetti covered in a milk-and-butter sauce and put ice cream on everything from cantaloupe to cereal. She says Sunnye wore strappy rainbow-colored sandals and shorts to show off her shapely legs. On the weekends she hosted shrimp boils. "Heads and all," Dusti says. "That's where I learned to shuck shrimp." Sunnye always brought sugar cookies with square holes in the center when she took the kids to the beach, Dusti says, and spent Sunday afternoons smoking Salem cigarettes and drinking Korbel champagne.
Her second husband, Hollis Hisey, was a quiet man who rarely laughed or talked much, says Clara. If people asked him how he was doing, Hollis said fine, without elaborating. "He was a closed man," says his longtime friend Frank Williamson. "There's not a lot of people know a lot of things about Hollis other than he worked, he worked, he worked, he worked and he worked."
Hollis spent seven days a week at the office. A maintenance engineer, he served as the superintendent for the ten-story professional building owned by the Sealy Smith Foundation. "If you called him, you could reach him," says Frank, who was a pharmacist in the building. "He was always in his office." Even after he retired, Hollis continued going to work.
Hollis wore dress pants every day and on the rare weekends that he didn't work, David says, the two of them went goose and duck hunting with their mutt, Sparky. Other days they fished for trout and redfish in the bay or from a friend's boat.
The Hiseys rarely traveled or went on vacations. They bought two cars in the last 50 years, and neither was driven more than 50,000 miles. "We'd beg them to come and see us, or beg them to come on a trip with us, and they never would," Clara says.
About ten years ago, Sunnye stopped recognizing people and remembering things. At her sister Helen's funeral in 1991, she kept asking where Helen was. Dusti told her several times that Helen was dead, but Sunnye didn't seem to understand. "It just never really dawned on her," Dusti says. Sunnye was soon diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
Hollis's brothers told him to put Sunnye in a nursing home. But he didn't want to leave her. They told him to move back home to Haskill, a small town near Abilene, so his family could help care for Sunnye. But Hollis said no.
"He seemed to think he could take care of her himself, and we all knew he couldn't," Clara says. "The only one he wanted around him was David."
Hollis was the oldest of five children; he told his younger brothers and sisters to leave him alone. So they did.
David looks like a thinner version of his father. But he inherited his mother's smile and charm. He graduated from Kerwin High School, then a private, all-boys Catholic school (now the coed O'Connell High School). Then he studied two semesters at Lamar Tech (now Lamar University) in Beaumont before dropping out and joining the navy. Stationed in San Francisco, David was a second-class private when he was discharged four years later. He moved back to Galveston and worked as a deckhand on a private boat. When his daughter was born, he started working for his dad. He did maintenance repairs for a few years in the building his father worked in, before becoming a deckhand on a charter boat in Freeport. He fished in the summer, and in the winter he hunted with his black Labs, Lucky, Dan and Harley.
Dusti says David is her favorite cousin -- he's her son's godfather. She says David would call her drunk in the middle of the night, telling her stories, making her laugh and asking how his ex-wife and daughter were. He told her about his new business ventures and get-rich-quick schemes and often hit her up for money.
His stories were usually lies, she says, but she loves him anyway. His lies, she says, were never hurtful. They were just exaggerations to make himself look more prosperous and important than he really was.
"You'd love him to death, you just couldn't believe him," Dusti says. "It's not a bad thing."
She says David always loved and respected his parents. "If Hollis would yell at him, he wouldn't yell back," Dusti says. "You know kids sometimes set fire to cats -- he never did that kinda stuff."
Hollis and Sunnye doted on and adored David. "Hollis worshiped David," Clara says. "He and Sunnye both." They lent David money when he wanted to buy a boat or was broke, she says. David was all they ever talked about, Clara says.
David visited his parents in Galveston for Christmas in 1994. His mother had a home health-care worker to cook, bathe and care for her during the week, but on Saturday and Sunday, Hollis was alone with Sunnye. "They weren't eating on the weekends," David says.
David's half-sister, Cherrye Broussard, Sunnye's daughter from her previous marriage, hadn't visited Sunnye since she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Her husband later told detectives that Cherrye was battling breast cancer and it was too difficult for her to see her mother's mind crack.
"Cherrye called me and said, 'I'm not gonna take care of them. I'm not gonna let them drain my money,' " Dusti says. "She didn't have anything to do with them. Pop told me one time, 'I'm not leaving Cherrye anything. She won't come see her mother; she won't take care of us.' "
Since there was no one else to care for his parents, David says, he moved in. "I felt like he owed them that," Dusti says. When the home health-care worker retired, David took over full time. He changed his parents' diapers, bathed them, fed them, did laundry and kept the house clean.
The last time Dusti visited, in March three years ago, she says, the house was as spotless as Sunnye had always kept it. "Sunnye was still a vegetable, but she was a happy one," Dusti says. "She was smiling."
David says he had to grind his mother's food in a blender because she would forget to swallow and would choke. "If I put something in her mouth, she'd forget to chew the rest of it," David says. Sunnye spent her days in front of the television set. It didn't matter what channel it was on, David says, she just needed to hear a voice in the room. Otherwise she got scared.
Some days she didn't recognize David or his father. "She woke up in a strange place every day," David says. Eventually she stopped recognizing anyone, and people stopped visiting. "That hurt my dad," David says. "He couldn't figure out why her friends didn't come see her. He would ask me at night before bed, 'Why doesn't anyone come to see her? She had so many friends.' "
David says he looked into retirement homes, or Alzheimer's units, but he couldn't find a place on the island that would take both Sunnye, who was sick, and Hollis, who wasn't. Since his parents didn't want to be separated, he kept them at home. "They didn't want to be apart," David says. "Ever."
Neighbors say David was a devoted son and a helpful guy. Teri Kingsley, who lives directly across the street, says when a branch fell off her pine tree, David was the first to volunteer to help. Her rottweiler-Labrador, Bo, cried while Teri was at work, so David stood by the window and talked to him. David helped her carry groceries, and when she had car trouble, David fixed it.
He repaired many neighbors' cars, always working in his driveway so he could hear his parents if they needed him. "He was the nicest guy in the world," Teri says.
The night before David's daughter's wedding, July 17, 1999, David says he put his mother to bed as usual. In the morning, she was dead. David had promised to give his daughter away, but he didn't show up for the ceremony.
Hollis kept trying to wake Sunnye. He talked to her, read the newspaper to her, and for three nights slept in bed beside her. "He wouldn't recognize the fact that she was dead," David says. On the third day, David says, he closed the bedroom door and locked it. He says he wanted to call the authorities and have a funeral, but his father adamantly refused. Hollis insisted that he didn't want to be separated from Sunnye. "He wanted to stay with her," David says. "Keep her. I respected what he wanted to do."
David says Hollis stood by her door and spoke to her several times a day. As long as she was in the house, he was happy.
David relinquished his bedroom to his father and started sleeping on the couch. "There wasn't any other beds," he says. His mother's social security check was being directly deposited in the bank, and he spent it. At night, he handed strippers $100 bills. When a dancer tried to hit him up for money to buy a motorcycle, he paid $15,000 cash to buy her a car.
David regularly called friends and relatives, asking to borrow money. This was nothing new. But then he started having Hollis make requests. Hollis phoned his brother Doyle Hisey in Oklahoma and said he needed $1,000 because his money had been lost when a bank account closed. A couple of months later Hollis called asking for another grand. Then he called again asking for more.
Doyle Hisey knew his brother had worked into his eighties and had always saved, not spent, his money. He didn't understand why he needed money now. Doyle asked Hollis what was the matter. Why did he need more money when he had already sent some? Hollis said he didn't remember receiving any money.
The last time Hollis's old friend Frank visited the Hiseys, Hollis couldn't complete sentences or carry on a conversation. "When she died, he died too, really," David says. "He didn't have a reason to be around -- didn't want to be." Hollis didn't want to eat, get dressed or leave the house, David says. "It kept getting harder and harder," David says. "He kept getting worse and worse."
Around April, David says, Hollis died in his sleep. David wrapped him in plastic and laid him in bed beside Sunnye. He closed the curtains and locked the door.
David kept cashing his parents' social security and retirement income checks, totaling $8,000 a month. He forged his father's signature and drained their bank accounts, often writing himself checks for $9,500. One month he withdrew $45,000. Still, he continued to call friends and family, asking for cash. He said he needed to borrow money to pay the electric bill, fix the air conditioner and fund his father's eye surgery.
Whenever Clara or her husband, Doyle, called, David said his parents were asleep, or were out of town and couldn't come to the phone. After about four months had gone by and they still hadn't been able to talk to Hollis, Clara got suspicious. She didn't believe David's various stories.
Since she lives in Oklahoma, Clara called David's brother-in-law, O.J. Broussard, and asked him to go by the house and check on Hollis and Sunnye. On several occasions, O.J. tried to see Sunnye and Hollis, but David wouldn't let O.J. come inside. Each time O.J. visited, David made up a new story to explain his parents' whereabouts. Once, he said he had put them in a nursing home, but he didn't want O.J. to visit because it was in a bad part of town.
"He just couldn't find them," Clara says. She called the lady who delivered Meals on Wheels, who reported that David never let her come inside the house either. Clara phoned the police, Galveston County Guardians and Adult Protective Services.
"We called everybody, trying to find out if anyone knew where they were," Clara says. "No one seemed to know. No one seemed to care."
The Galveston County sheriff's office dispatched two officers to the house on Marlin in late August 2000.
David didn't answer the door. He wasn't home the next day, either. The officers' third attempt was Friday, September 1, at around 5:40 p.m. Again, David wasn't home.
Officers were about to leave when David turned down Ferry Road, returning from the bank. He pulled his battered blue Buick into the driveway behind Sergeant Bruce Balchunas's unmarked Ford F-150. "Another minute and we would've missed him," Balchunas says.
Balchunas introduced himself to David and told him that some family members and neighbors were concerned about his parents.
David told the officers that his parents were visiting his aunt in East Texas. He said he had talked to his father on the phone a couple of days before, and they were heading to another relative's house in Belton.
"That's fine," Balchunas said. He asked David if they could check inside the house while they were there.
"Sure," David said and signed a consent waiver for the officers to search the house. Inside, there was standing water in the kitchen sink, and the countertop was covered in dishes of moldy food. The dining room table's fruit tablecloth was nearly obscured by piles of papers, bills and boxes. Books and pictures were knocked over on the shelves, and clothes were scattered everywhere. "A typical bachelor place," Balchunas says.
The back bedroom had masking tape sealing the door frame, a towel stuffed under the crack, and Carpet Fresh sprinkled on the floor. There was a sign saying, "Stop! No Entry." David told officers that he had just set off a bug bomb to kill some flies. He asked if they could come back the next day and search the room.
Since it was Labor Day weekend, the deputies asked if they could just take a quick look. David asked them to come back in four hours.
If they closed the other doors in the hallway, they could isolate the fumes and search the bedroom, Balchunas said. David would have to leave the house for only an hour before the fumes dissipated. Balchunas said if they opened the door and everything was fine, they would leave immediately.
Okay, David said. He pulled the tape off the door and unlocked it. Balchunas and David walked into the living room, where David sat on the brown leather couch. Silently, David stared at the walnut floor.
Balchunas's partner, Sergeant Perry Larvin, walked into the bedroom. The windows were taped shut, the blinds and the curtains were closed. He saw a tuft of white hair sticking out from under the covers. Larvin pulled back the blanket and saw Sunnye; her skin was a dark, dried brown. She wore a sleeveless flannel gown covered in blue flowers and white socks; an adult-diaper strap was wrapped around her head to keep her mouth shut. Black mold was growing on her legs, her stomach was sunken, and her face had turned a greenish-black.
In the living room, Larvin ordered David to put his hands behind his back. He patted David down, told him to sit on the couch, and then went to the truck to call for backup.
David reached beneath the sofa and pulled out a .22-caliber rifle and pressed it to his chin. Before he could pull the trigger, Balchunas lunged at him and pinned him against the couch; with one hand Balchunas grabbed the barrel, and with the other, he clenched David's right hand so he couldn't fire. When Larvin returned, the two officers wrestled the weapon away from David. "It was a silent struggle," Balchunas says.
When Galveston police officers arrived at the scene, they discovered Hollis's corpse wrapped in yellow plastic trash bags. A band of silver duct tape was wrapped around his head, and two strips of white adhesive tape bound his ankles. White maggots crawled on the sheets wrapped around his body. The smell was so foul officers had to quit working every few minutes to go outside and get some fresh air, says Ibrahim, the district attorney who was called to the scene. "It smelled like death," he says. "That's the only way to describe it." Ibrahim says he had to throw away the shirt he was wearing because he couldn't get the odor out.
David was arrested and charged with two counts of abuse of a corpse, and held on a $10,000 bond.
"I didn't kill anyone," he told officers. "They died in their sleep."
Sunnye's eyelids were closed so tightly the coroner couldn't open them. She was five foot three, and her decaying body weighed 70 pounds. Her brain had totally degenerated, and insects crawled inside her skull. Her lungs had collapsed and were plastered in a sheet across her chest wall, says Charles Harvey, Galveston County chief medical examiner, who performed the autopsy.
Sunnye had severe cardiovascular disease, clinical hypertension and Alzheimer's.
Her husband had severe heart, lung and kidney problems. Harvey says that in addition to bad hearts and hardened, clogged arteries, the couple had matching fractures in their necks. The fragile hyoid bones that support the voice box were broken. And Harvey says he saw hemorrhages in their neck tissue that appeared to have been made while their hearts were still beating.
He declared their deaths a textbook case of strangulation.
"I am absolutely convinced that these folks did not die of natural causes," Harvey says. "I can almost assure you that if I were to show these cases and these findings to 100 trained forensic pathologists around the country, I would get back 100 opinions that would say this is a strangulation."
David was charged with capital murder, theft and two counts of abuse of a corpse. Ibrahim, felony chief for the 405th District Court, decided not to seek the death penalty. Other than driving with a suspended license, David had no prior convictions; Ibrahim says he couldn't prove that David would be a future danger to society.
Plus, David's family didn't want him to die; they just wanted him to spend the rest of his life in prison. "When I first went to the courthouse, I had David hung," Dusti says. "I was just wanting him to rot in hell forever."
But now she wonders if he killed them out of compassion, and didn't bury them because he loved them too much to let them go. David's aunt, Clara, says Sunnye and Hollis would not have wanted to live without their minds. "My God," she says, "he did them a favor. I think they'd be better off in heaven than wandering around here being mistreated by people."
Ibrahim told the jury that David returned from Florida not to care for his elderly parents but rather to rob and murder them. "He came here with the intent to leech off of his parents," Ibrahim says. "Then he realized that he could go further than that -- not only could he leech off of them, but he could take it all. They were of no consequence to him anymore."
David rapidly spent their money, squandering more than $700,000, Ibrahim says. Then David realized that caring for his mother was too much work, so he strangled her.
David kept his father alive, Ibrahim says, because when relatives called, they always asked to talk to Hollis (since for years Sunnye had been unable to speak coherently). As Hollis became more demented and difficult to care for, he was less valuable to David, Ibrahim says. So David strangled him, too.
Graves, David's court-appointed attorney, insists that David was simply carrying out his parents' wishes. Yes, David spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (although he says it's closer to $500,000 than $700,000). And yes, he did live with their dead bodies. But most of the money had been spent before they died. Besides, David was the sole heir in the will, had power of attorney, and he would have received the money eventually.
"It just doesn't make sense," Graves says. "He didn't need to kill them for the money. He already had the money."
Graves argues that David would have benefited more if his parents had remained alive -- because he would have continued to receive their social security, pension and retirement income. Graves asked the jury to sentence David to a few years of probation.
Graves says the three versions of the autopsies are suspect. When Harvey originally examined the bodies, he didn't find any fractures. A few days later, Graves says, fractures were found when other pathologists working in Harvey's office examined the bodies. Then, a few weeks before the trial, the autopsy was amended.
"Fractures appeared and disappeared and changed from left and right, and hemorrhages as well appeared and disappeared in ways that are not scientifically plausible in any shape or form," says Lloyd White, a Nueces County medical examiner who testified for the defense. "It's like saying somebody was killed by a gunshot wound, then you come back and say, 'Well, no, maybe they were stabbed. No, maybe could be they were strangled.' There's just too many different versions here."
White testified that it is possible that when the bodies were autopsied, hemorrhages could have been created by the doctors. "It's easy to create artifact," he says. He also said that since the forensic pathologist wasn't working with a fresh corpse, what appeared to be hemorrhages could have been discoloration due to decomposition.
Since the Hiseys were both elderly smokers with a variety of heart and lung diseases, White testified that he believes they died of natural causes.
"If you hear hoofbeats in the corral, you don't go looking for zebras," White says. "They had plenty of natural diseases that people a lot younger than they are die from every day."
The prosecution agrees that the Hiseys were not an especially healthy couple, but Harvey says deaths caused by heart attacks or lung disease don't show signs of strangulation. Their necks would not have been broken, and the hemorrhages, if caused by natural decomposition, would not have been in matching patterns.
"You have glaring evidence of a strangulation. So what if they had all the rest of these other diseases? Strangulation is what killed them," Harvey says. "They weren't strangled, and then lingered for six months, and then died of a heart attack. That's totally, completely unreasonable."
Graves argued that since David moved his father's body after he died, it's possible that the neck snapped when he moved him. But Harvey says neck muscles get very stiff, and it's difficult to break these bones after death. Graves also pointed out that the adult diaper Sunnye was wearing was clean, and usually when people are strangled they lose control of their bowels.
The district attorney says there was only one autopsy, not three. When Harvey originally examined Sunnye, she was so mummified with dry, leathery skin, he had to soak her neck tissues overnight to rehydrate her body. Then, Harvey saw the hemorrhages. Both Ibrahim and Harvey say that the autopsy was amended a few weeks before the trial merely to correct a clerical error.
When showing the jury a book of David's financial records, Ibrahim noted that David wrote most of the checks to himself. A few checks were written to pay the cable and phone bills, but Ibrahim points out that there is no record of doctor bills, prescriptions filled or any evidence that David was caring for elderly individuals.
"He's despicable," Ibrahim says. "David Hisey is less than human. There is nothing about David Hisey or anything associated with David Hisey that didn't disgust me. How can you not be disgusted?"
David didn't testify. "We thought we had raised enough reasonable doubt," Graves says. "He figured, 'Why get in there and muck things up?' "
Ibrahim says he wants to ask David what he did with the money. He wants to know what David was thinking when he put his hands around his mother's neck and strangled her. He wants to know how it felt to eat dinners from Meals on Wheels that were meant for his parents, who lay dead in the next room. "I would've kept him on the stand for two days," Ibrahim says. "He's a lying son of a bitch. He would have been exposed as a lying son of a bitch."
After two weeks of testimony, the jury declared David guilty of the lesser, included charge of murder. "We had to fight for that," Graves says. "That's what made it less of a hollow victory." The jury sentenced him to 43 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
"Justice has been served," says David's half-sister, Cherrye.
The trial ended Friday afternoon. That weekend, one of the jurors visited David in the Galveston County Jail. He says she told him that she didn't believe he had killed his parents, but she had been pressured into voting guilty anyway. David says she told him that there had been a debate among the jurors about whether the doubt they had in their minds qualified as reasonable doubt. "They weren't all real sure," David says.
His lawyer has interviewed her and plans to file a motion for new trial based on possible jury misconduct. The grounds for a new trial aren't solid, Graves told David during a visit two weeks after the trial. "It's a little shaky at best," Graves told him.
If the motion is denied, Graves plans to appeal the case. He argues that the judge should have granted his motion for a change of venue; he says David didn't get a fair trial in Galveston because the case had received so much publicity. The Galveston Daily News reported that when the jury members were being selected, one man stood up and said that anyone who claimed not to have heard about David's case was lying. He wasn't selected.
Today David spends his days in jail playing pinochle and talking to his parents. He says it was his choice to carry out his parents' wishes -- he didn't have to. But he wanted to keep his word.
"I told them I wouldn't separate them. I didn't," he says. "I made a commitment to them."
He sometimes speaks about his parents in the present tense. He scrunches up his forehead, smiles and answers many questions with "I don't know" in a way that makes the response seem inappropriate or inaccurate. When asked about his parents, he often responds, "Well, you'll have to ask them."
He says he spent Sunnye and Hollis's money because it was his. "They gave it to me," he says. Years before Sunnye was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he says, his parents changed their wills, making him the sole beneficiary. He says his parents told him to go ahead and spend the money however he pleased. When asked what he spent it on, he says he doesn't know.
He believes the autopsy results are erroneous. He says he knows the bones in his parents' necks were not broken when the police officers arrived at his house. David says after Sunnye died, he didn't move her at all, other than to straighten her head.
He says he unlocked his parents' bedroom door for the cops because he was tired of hiding and playing games. He claims the gun was old and he doesn't even know if it would have fired -- or if his arms are long enough to reach the trigger.
The house on Marlin has been sold, and the place is empty. The white oleander David planted thrives in the backyard by the garage. Beside the front door, the roses and ginger are tangled together. The walls have recently been repainted and the floors polished. David says he just wants to get out of jail and get on a boat again. Maybe he'll move back to Florida, but he says he'd be happy staying in Galveston.
None of his family has visited him in jail. "I'm used to it," he says. "They didn't come see us when they were sick. Why would they come now?" His ex-wife is the only one who writes him, he says.
His parents' bodies have been in the morgue for two years now. There hasn't been a funeral or even a memorial service. On a Wednesday afternoon in early May, Graves asks David what he wants to do with Sunnye and Hollis. Does he want them cremated?
"Yeah, I think that would be the best thing to do," David says. "Keep them together."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.