When Harry De La Roche Jr.’s eyesight tested too poorly for the military academies his father insisted he attend, he was enrolled at the Citadel instead. De La Roche immediately became a prime target for hazing and abuse. After 3 months, on November 20, 1976, De La Roche went home for a Thanksgiving furlough. Eight days later, De La Roche shot his parents in their bed, then his 15-year-old brother Ronald, also asleep. The youngest brother, 12-year-old Eric, was awakened by the gunshots. He shouted and lunged for Harry’s pistol. De La Roche shot him twice, left, then returned and – finding Eric struggling to stand – bludgeoned him to death.
Contradictory statements, including a full confession by De La Roche, earned the 18-year-old a murder charge. But the proceedings were postponed the following October when a New Jersey paper published an interview with the defendant stating it was actually his brother, Ronald, who killed the rest of the family, and that Harry then killed Ronald out of rage and/or self-defense.
The trial moved forward in January 1978 with a sequestered jury, who heard De La Roche’s confession only after the question of admissibility was resolved. Following a convoluted and charmless performance as a witness in his own defense, De La Roche changed his plea to guilty by reason of insanity on January 25, shocking the prosecution and the judge. He was found guilty the next day of murder in the first degree and received 4 concurrent life sentences.