Until his murder trial this week, Robert Luch's children had not seen their father for more than two years, not since he was charged with shooting and killing their mother in their West Anchorage home.
But when the trial began Tuesday, the four Luch children were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder right behind their father in the courtroom. The oldest, 23-year-old Brent, and the youngest, 20-year-old Marcelyn, testified Wednesday and Thursday about their mother's infidelity, their father's jealousy, and the fatal shooting on Sept. 28, 2010. The testimony differed from statements Brent and Marcelyn gave to police that night, as their mother lay dying in a hospital.
Prosecutors say Robert bought a .38-caliber revolver 11 days before the shooting, retrieved it from a locked storage area and used it for its intended purpose: killing his wife, 40-year-old Jocelyn. Robert's defense attorney says the gun fired during a chaotic, unplanned struggle that followed an argument about Jocelyn and another man.
The difference -- what was Robert's intent? -- could mean decades more or less in prison for the 64-year-old man.
On the witness stand Wednesday, Brent Luch described a summer of suspicions about his mother leading up to her death. Brent, a criminal justice major now in his final semester at college in Arizona, said his mother seemed distant and changed when he returned to Anchorage at the beginning of that summer. After a while, his sisters, who'd looked through text messages on their mother's cell phone, told Brent they thought she was having an affair, he said. Later, Jocelyn said she wanted a divorce, he testified.
Robert Luch's lawyer, Andrew Lambert, explained earlier in the trial that his client had met his wife in the Philippines. Robert worked for the state Department of Transportation until his retirement in 2000, and he and Jocelyn, strict Catholics, home-schooled their kids. They never had a television at their Telstar Circle duplex. The Anchorage running community knew the children as the dedicated quartet who, from a young age, performed agility drills at local tracks wearing matching shorts and shirts and competing in races.
It all started to unravel during the summer of 2010, lawyers on both sides said.
Deputy District Attorney Clint Campion asked Brent if his father had talked about any violent thoughts his father might have had that summer. Brent did not remember having such a conversation with his father, but admitted he had told detectives something to that effect.
Did Robert talk about suicide? Campion asked. Did Brent talk to police about that after the shooting?
"After this little incident happened, for a while, there were some questions asked of me where, I guess you could say I wanted to make my mom look perfect and make my father look bad," Brent said. "I'm not saying he didn't say that to me. That very well could've happened."
"Were you telling the truth to the detectives when you said that?" Campion asked.
"I honestly don't remember," Brent said. "Sorry."
Questioned by Lambert, his father's lawyer, Brent said he was in shock when he talked to the detectives and still had his mother's blood on his hands from trying to save her life. They asked many questions, and he was emotional, Brent said.
Brent gave mostly one-word answers, agreeing or disagreeing with Lambert's statements.
"Your dad, never during the summer of 2010, ever said that he was going to kill your mom and kill himself. You never heard that," Lambert said.
"Correct," Brent said.
More questions about Robert's intent, at least what the children said they knew of it, followed Thursday, when Marcelyn, Brent's youngest sister, took the witness stand. This time, prosecutor Christina Sherman was asking the questions.
Sherman asked Marcelyn to describe the June night when Robert heard his wife talking to another man on the phone. Marcelyn said her father woke everyone in the house to tell them.
"Did he say you better hide your mom because he was going to kill her?" Sherman asked.
"No," Marcelyn said.
"Do you remember telling officers he said that?"
"I don't remember saying that."
Later in Marcelyn's testimony, Sherman asked if she remembered telling a police officer that her father told her as many as 10 times that he was going to get a gun, shoot and kill her mother, then kill himself.
"I don't remember saying that," Marcelyn said.
"Did your dad say that?" Sherman asked.
"No, I don't remember him saying that."
"Do you remember telling the officer that your dad had been planning this out?"
"Do you remember telling the officer that your dad kept saying that one day, if he shot your mom, he was going to say it was temporary insanity and that it just happened all of a sudden, but that you thought he had planned it out?"
"No, I can't remember."
Lambert, cross-examining Marcelyn, asked if she had been mad at her father that night and said things to the police that would hurt him. Marcelyn agreed.
"And if you made those statements, they were lies, right?" Lambert asked.
"Yes," Marcelyn said.
As the trial broke for the weekend, Brent made a request to Judge Jack Smith: Now that his testimony was finished, he wanted the judge to lift an order restricting him from talking to his father. Brent was preparing to fly back to school in Arizona and wanted permission to speak to Robert face-to-face for the first time since 2010.
Judge Smith gave his approval after some discussion with the lawyers.
"As long as you don't talk about the case," the judge said.
A representative from Lambert's office said he would attend.
The trial continues Monday.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.