Greenbrier Cans Principal for Husband’s Murder Charge

The city school system has fired the new principal for Greenbrier Elementary before she could even start her job, Dana Hackett reports for NBC 29. The reason, oddly, is that her husband was once a suspect in a San Antonio murder case eleven years ago. Maj. Robert Eric Duncan had been the boss of the father of the 11-year-old victim at Randolph AFB. A military grand jury had filed charges against him in the 1990 murder, under military law, but they ultimately concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence against him. The girl’s family recently requested that the case be reactivated, believing that an investigation into Duncan by a local TV station had provided the evidence necessary to convict him, and the Texas Rangers agreed to take on the case. Presumably this affects Duncan’s wife because the TV station’s investigation showed that she’d provided a pair of conflicting alibis for her husband. All of this leaves Greenbrier without a principal and the Duncans in the middle of moving to Charlottesville. The erstwhile principal is hinting at legal action, but Virginia employment law probably leaves her out of luck.

35 thoughts on “Greenbrier Cans Principal for Husband’s Murder Charge”

  1. Reading that newspaper report gives me chills. It implies the child was killed for a stupid reason. Thank goodness for GOOGLE

  2. I always wonder what happened to good old reference checks and now Google BEFORE an offer is made, BEFORE they sold their house and prepared to move here, uprooting their life. And why on earth would the couple sell their home, quit their jobs BEFORE a firm contract was signed? I assume no employment contract was signed therefore allowing the county to renig on the offer. As is their right I suppose, legally. If a contract WAS signed then I suppose the county has to buy her out even if she never worked one day.
    It’s just a mess-for the county and for this couple.

  3. Why did it take a Greenbrier parent to do a google search? I find it incredible that the CCS staff and school board members did not bother to take this simple step. It’s not a “background check” (though I think that would be a good idea, especially given the recent news on Jonathan Spivey)–google searches are what any reasonable, interested citizen would do in learning more about their new principal. The people doing the hiring should do this, too, at the very least.

  4. Jan: Googling Ms. Duncan and her husband under just their names (common surname) turns up nothing. Googling their names in connection with San Antonio also turns up nothing. It’s not until the murder victim’s name is added to Mr. Duncan’s name that anything comes up. You have to really know what you’re looking for and of course no one would expect anything like this.

  5. No one does a background check on principals for our schools? Now I also find that incredible. And is Violet right that a parent found out all this stuff? Not the HR person at the county?
    Yikes yikes yikes.

  6. He wasn’t actually charged, was he?

    It’s actually the city schools, not the county schools. I’d have to say, that the city schools have been burned before when they signed people without a thorough look into their background. No school district wants to invite controversy of any kind, especially the city schools. Off the top of my head, I remember Former Supe Scottie Griffin who was under a ton of controversy not just for her performance here, but also for unprofessionalism in another school district prior to coming to Charlottesville… There was also the principal at Buford (wish I could remember her name) about 8 years ago who was being sued by a separate school district, ostensibly unbeknownst to Cville schools. Both of those appointments created a swirl of controversy and lots of allegations of racial bias and unfair treatment, etc. Not good for the school board’s PR. They should definitely be up on their research. It’s a good thing that this came to light, no matter how late in the game.

    They made a good call. Could anyone really defend the Duncan’s public image right now? A principalship is a political position. Just imagine what would happen if the school board approved this principal, and it later came to light that her husband had been investigated (and may be reinvestigated) for a child-murder. Assuming her husband were innocent and wrongly persecuted how would a principal wade through that potential storm distrust and suspicion while leading a community? Or, if the husband was investigated again and charged, how on earth could she keep her position? It’s very, very hard to think that our community, much less the school board would allow suspicions of child-murder to be swept under the rug. The school system made the right decision.

    Jan made a good point. It doesn’t seem logical to just up and leave one’s life to come to a new job in another state. But, we really don’t know what their situation was in Indiana. Since Virginia is an at-will state, you always hedge your bets until you have a contract!

  7. I agree it’s a good thing they found this out. I do get concerned that we can’t sem to find good qualified people IN OUR OWN STATE rather than importing from Indiana.

  8. In my opinion someone had to have tipped someone off. The Internet is often a scary place. Remember that after Griffin left here she applied for a couple of jobs and made it to the finals. People from Charlottesville promptly contacted school boards and others responsible for doing the hiring to tell them where to look.

    I googled her name after the announcement was made and all I found were references to her time in Indiana. I agree with Jennifer, you really had to know what you were looking for in order to find it.

    My guess is that the Ms. Atkins made the offer in good faith. She made the announcement in good faith. Someone, somewhere found out about the job offer and tipped off someone on the school board before they voted on the contract. You don’t have a contract until the school board says you do, but the fact of the matter is many people make decisions based on that job offer, not the contract being approved by the school board.

  9. The NBC29 story says that Duncan believes someone tipped off the school system — my guess would be the family of the murdered girl, who (according to another of the linked stories) seem firmly convinced that Eric Duncan killed her. I could easily imagine that if they believe he did it, they’d be very eager to contact his wife’s future employer with this news. Probably they’ve been following his movements ever since the murder, convinced he’s the murderer and determined to catch him up sooner or later.

    So I don’t think it’s at all clear that a local parent found this out by just Googling (like Jan said, just googling “Diane Duncan” or “Eric Duncan” doesn’t turn it up easily — you need to add the child’s name). And a background check of Ms. Duncan wouldn’t turn up the fact that her husband was a suspect (never convicted, perhaps never formally charged) in a murder case 17 years ago. And I’m not sure that I think the school system should run background checks on spouses of potential hires, either — kind of invasive. I’m not sure at all that the City school board made any kind of error in moving towards hiring her, if this wasn’t part of her criminal background. I do think they made the right move in withdrawing the offer, esp. given that it sounds like the case against her husband may be re-opened and her allegedly conflicting alibis for him might become part of the investigation.

    And I don’t know how a background check would have helped in the Spivey case…is that relevant at all? Did he have a criminal background that would have told people he was prone to molesting teenagers?

  10. He wasn’t actually charged, was he?

    That TV news station says that he was, but since it was in military court, it may well be that there’s just no a clear analogue to being charged in civilian court. I say that only because I know nothing about military law, rather than because I know enough to know that being charged is somehow different.

  11. In general, the military proceedings would have started with a “pre-trial” investigation. If the responsible JAG (Judge Advocate General)found insufficient evidence to sustain a recommendation for a General Gourt Martial (presumably a GCM because of the nature of the charge)then no trial. That is what I remember from long ago days when I sat on a number of Courts martial. I am no JAG officer so I`m working on long ago memory here.

    I can`t think of a situation in the US where even if the murder was committed on a military (federal)reservation the locals would not have asked for jurisdiction. Of course there are many complications to that kind of mess – the victim`s status, etc. I admit to not having read the GOOGLE info.

    What I don`t like is the “guilt by association” angle, topped with apparently we have here the assumption of guilt without due process and in this case by relationship (wife/husband).

    If all that is proper then I suggest all applicants for jobs be denied the job if their relatives have ever been charged with (fill in the blank as to which crime must be considered) convicted or not and appaently if they merely fell under suspicion. Perhaps a school board member has a relative who once was suspected of a crime. Should they be recalled?

    Some of my surmise is a little farfetched perhaps but the tendency of guilt by association and especially when that guilt is adjudged by merely a suspcion, bothers me.In fact the whole mess bothers me and much of my blame falls on the Board if there was any tender of the job with a semblance of sincerity.

    Caveat – didn`t read the GOOGLE results.

  12. Unfortunately, the suspicion around Ms. Duncan’s husband does lend to people assigning guild by association, whether correct or not. If it were a drunk driving charge, or assault or some other felony, it probably would not have worried them as much as the murder of a child. (They probably wouldn’t have found out about it, either.) The school board presumably acted to avoid bringing a controversy and public circus to Charlottesville schools. Considering that the case is open and under investigation and that Ms. Duncan was involved in the case, I’d say that it’s a safe bet to deflect the issue away from the school system.

  13. I don’t know if it’s guilt by association — that is, thinking she must be a bad person to be associated with a possibly bad person — as it is “would our school system be harmed by this coming storm?” I think it’s reasonable to conclude that they just don’t need this kind of hassle — her husband possibly being pursued anew in regards to this murder, and the likelihood that her allegedly conflicting alibis for him might become part of the investigation.

    Honestly, the school system seems like it can’t win. In the county, they just dealt with the Friday flier brouhaha, in which the Board was apparently constantly responding to numerous complaints about the secular/paganist fliers in Friday folders, and they finally concluded that just dealing with the complaints was taking up too much time. If the City school board had gone ahead with this hire knowing what is probably coming down the pike, how many complaints do you think they’d be getting from outraged parents? It would become the focus of all city school-related discussions — “why did you hire this person? why didn’t you find this out of ahead of time? what, you KNEW ahead of time and you still hired her?” and so on and so forth. No one would be talking about achievement gaps or is our kids learning or any of that — just this 17 year old murder case. Is that productive and good for the school system? Not really. But withdrawing the offer is getting them heat, too. Can’t win for trying, it seems.

    Sure, if she had nothing to do with it and if he is innocent, this is all very unfair. But life seems to be about balancing ideals of fairness against pragmatic concerns, and I can understand why the School Board might feel that this hire would just lead to a huge can of worms and that the students in Greenbrier Elementary don’t need to be in the middle of that.

  14. Cecil(2)…if the family tipped off Charlottesville City Schools, then I wonder how they knew that Duncan had accepted a job here and yet didn’t tip off the other districts where Duncan worked?

    I went back and looked at the articles (newspaper and tv) from San Antonio. It does seem that there was evidence to suggest a possiblity that Duncan might have done it. However, there was not ENOUGH evidence to convict. So I would presume then that until there was Enough, the courts decided not to try. If Duncan was tried and acquitted, then he could never be tried again. Most likely the courts decided they would wait until they could prove their caseWITHOUT a doubt, which it seems, they can not now do.

    Regardless, another mess for the Charlottesville City Schools, as if they didn’t already have enough with Griffin and Spivey (to name just two)

  15. Actually, if you Google the husband’s full name–Robert Eric Duncan–and San Antonio, OR Google “Robert Eric Duncan” with the quotes, the 3rd hit is Wikipedia’s entry on Heidi Seeman. Not so difficult to find after all.

  16. TLPatten wrote “Actually, if you Google the husband’s full name–Robert Eric Duncan–and San Antonio, OR Google “Robert Eric Duncan” with the quotes, the 3rd hit is Wikipedia’s entry on Heidi Seeman.”

    I found that when googling for:

    “eric duncan” “debra duncan”

    the top 3 stories are current (from NBC 29 & the DP); the forth is some ‘people search’ but the 5th entry is the link that Waldo cited from WOAI. I don’t know if that particular link has just risen in the rankings; if not, it would have been the #2 search result.

  17. Since when can someone be penalized for crimes committed by another adult family member? Or in this case, when the family member was never charged.
    I read that in Ancient China when one member of a family committed a crime , the whole family was punished. But did not thik that was the case here!
    Really, does sound like the school board wanted to avoid a possible controversy. But they may have created another one-especially if there is a lawsuit.
    It does seem they acted hastily.

  18. I back pedaled and read the newspaper article in the San Antonia News which reported the results of the WOAI Trouble Shooters (Those Trouble Shooters are something-Wow!) and sensationalized some information termed “explosive”.

    Among these bits of “explosive information” was the fact an AF Investigator said “there were signs of deception” (referring to the polygraph test). I`ll say this:If you have a friend who is a polygraph operator, and he is truly your friend, he will tell you “Don`t ever, ever, take a polygraph exam.” There is a reason (several, in fact) these tests are inadmissable.

    Inconsistencies in stories. An experienced investigator will look for inconsistencies to develop lines of interrogation but in the main the stories which are “too darn pat” are the ones which are suspect. Honest memory errors are just that, honest errors.

    “Mrs Duncan erred in stating where she was after being with her husband (the alibi)”. The error was where she went not that she was not with her husband previously – the actual alibi.

    Maj Duncan led the search party away from the place they found the remains. I take as valid and believeable, his statement he was following search procedures laid out by officials. The statement about private property is not inconsistent with the procedure. Both could apply.

    The motive – killed a child because he blamed the father for losing his (Duncans) job . Possibly true but it will take a lot to bolster that belief on motive. Direct action perhaps but on a child – possible but needs more.

    What I have stated (based upon a certain amount of experience) one could refute inasmuch there are no elements of proof in my comments but I rebut yet another sensationalized story, examples of which tactic we can find locally – easily. Why do I have this feeling I will see a version of all this in an “explosive story” in a local news outlet.

    I hope decisions in the Board`s action were based upon a lot more than an a newspaper`s attempt to fill space. A common practice to review old high profile cases and sensationalize trivial information and looking at only one side. “Explosive” and “Trouble Shooters” did it for me.

    I am merely presenting another view of the newspaper`s (garbage,in my view) comments.

  19. As usual, no investigative reporting. I would like to know exactly why her offer was pulled. Who blew the whistle. I find it hard to believe that a Google search, a reference check and/or a background check wouldn’t show the past issues. So how are folks supposed to protect our kids and schools?
    I’m confused I guess.

  20. I certainly have to agree with you, van. The New Yorker had a great article about polygraph tests a few weeks ago, and any question that I had as to the validity of them evaporated then. They’re hardly any better than an Ouija board.

  21. Although it must be a major disappointment, Mrs. Duncan isn’t being punished by the school system, as far as I can tell. The school system changed its mind in offering the position, and the are allowed to do that. The information given by the school system makes no mention of the murder investigation. That information was given by the Duncans themselves to the NBC29, or so it appears. It most likely is the reason why she won’t get the job, but the schools didn’t say that. It would be illegal for them to do so, and if they had, the Duncans probably would have a case for slander. It’s possible that Mrs. Duncan could (and maybe should) find a position elsewhere. That is, assuming that this current media attention, cvillenews included, doesn’t follow them.

  22. Waldo said>>>any question that I had as to the validity of them (polygraph) evaporated then (a few weeks ago). They’re hardly any better than an Ouija board.

  23. All that a polygraph really shows is whether the subject shows signs of stress in their biofeedback in response to certain questions. Then they compare those signs of stress to the biofeedback recorded when the subject truthfully answered questions with known answers, such as their name, date of birth, etc. It seems to me that anyone would be likely to show higher signs of stress in their biofeedback when made to listen to a grisly hypothetical description of a child’s death. Wouldn’t you? In fact, I’d be a lot more worried about the guy who seems totally calm when he has to listen to and visualize that sort of thing.

    Polygraphs are quack science.

    With regard to the explanations of the search area, I see no conflict. The (former) suspect’s 2 reasons for why the search was conducted in the way that it was are in no way contradictory. I see no reason why he wouldn’t have had to steer clear of private property that he had no right to search without a warrant AND the hundreds of volunteers might have also largely just wandered off to wherever they felt like searching.

    As far as the wife’s alibis are concerned, I have to admit that if you asked me exactly where either I or my wife was on, say, June 28th I would have no clue. I have enough trouble remembering what day of the week it is today and what I had for lunch yesterday. Let alone exactly where I or my spouse was on a given day 11 years ago.

    The suggested motive is about as weak as they come. The kind of person who would kill a child out of anger at something that the child’s father did is not going to be a first-time offender. This would be someone with very serious ‘anger-management’ problems. The idea that an adult, old enough to hold the rank of Major in the Air Force, would suddenly do this out of nowhere without a long history of violent and impulsive or sociopathic behavior does not make sense. I’ve seen nothing that suggests that Duncan had any such criminal history. Indeed, it would be difficult for someone with such an out-of-control temper to rise very far as an officer in the USAF.

    No, this whole thing adds up to a great big ‘nothing’ in my opinion. There’s no sound motive and no evidence whatsoever linking Duncan to the crime. This isn’t enough to press charges over and it certainly isn’t enough to punish the former suspect’s wife for. Someone killed this girl and that person should be found and punished. But I don’t believe that it was Duncan.

  24. You know, if I were a parent of a child in the Charlottesville schools, I would be appalled at the incompetence of the HR dept.for the public schools revealed by this story. This woman had a job which she left to come here. Her life has been seriously disrupted. It may be true that it would not be best for the Greenbriar school community to have hired her, given that the world is not a fair place for anyone ever accused of a serious crime, but it is inexcusable that any school HR dept. would not make the effort to google candidates for any educational position, with and without quotation marks!! Especially given the recent history of the Charlottesville schools, this is very hard to comprehend. I am staying in the county until my last child has graduated from high school!

  25. I got a different guess of guilt from the one DP article I read vs. the one I read San Antonio Express-News, the one summing it up 15 years later (less detailed than the one quoted by Van). I feel silly guessing if he’s guilty or not. But I will. One thing for sure, this was giant, Baby Jessica in the Well-type story when it happened. It turned into whole network for missing children, etc., named after her. So maybe dad couldn’t let it go and freaked on his old boss after a decade of desperation. Some weird quirk in military law, where the Marines did investigate the major, but the charging body (like a grand jury) found insufficient evidence, and then the dad was able to bring charges on his own several years later. Weird. By the way, the DP says “no evidence,” the SA N-E says “insufficient.” Also, the SA E-N says one of the investigators is not looking for a new suspect, but “a confession.” So there’s plenty of mud sloshing around. Blah.

    Can I change the topic? England and some provinces in Canada have coroner’s courts. The coroner is not some hired public employee, but is like a judge, and can convene public inquests and call witnesses. It’s not fully adversarial like a trial, but there’s some opinion in Canada that it’s a better system, or at least less likely to allow really bad coroners (a.k.a. medical examiners) to serve unchallenged in their ethereal chambers. So why can’t we have them?

  26. I’m thinking it’s that thing we did in 1776 — not part of the empire anymore, don’t have their judicial forms…

  27. To get back to this story- I think it is not possible to get close to the truth of a long ago murder from a few media reports.
    I think that we need to realize that we live in a time when anyone can check out anyone else on the internet. SO,when a school system is hiring administrators, they should realize that it is likely that some citizen will check out any new hire. It would be nice if a school board or superintendent could trust that their Human Resources Dept. realized this, but if that is not the case then they need to do the check themselves before approving a hire.
    Otherwise, lives are needlessly disrupted.

  28. Too Much TV:

    This blog reads like so many would be CSI agents. The key here people is that no one was convicted of a crime. The school board here has not only transcended the idea of innocence until proven guilty but have adopted the Marxist view of even if you aren’t guilty we are going to shoot you anyway because someone in the Party said you were guilty.

    Let’s all take a deep breath, step back and think about how we would want to be treated had we been falsly accused and never charged of a crime yet were let go from a job or passed over for a job.

    I have every intention of contacting the Civil Liberties Union to file suit as a concerned citizen in fear of my future rights.

    Think about it…

  29. I don’t think its all that heavy, Kurt. The Superintendent made her choice based upon her expectations for a principal. It’s reasonable to deny an applicant who might bring some controversy. Mrs. Duncan can still get a job, and she is not being criminalized. The unfortunate part is that he HR department didn’t do their background checking until it after they had announced their choice.

  30. Sylvia,
    Background search???? Are we to believe everything printed on the internet? I wish she had done a background search because there would have been nothing to find. No conviction- again, no formal charge. An investigation that lead to no action. That’s like saying you bred a pit bull that mauled a child that you never owned.
    Would you want the sup. to nix you for a job based on that?? She based her decision on a false assumption. Do you know that Mr. Duncan ran for office (State Representative) in Indiana? Do you really think that would have been allowed had some misconduct been in play? And, the spurious charge was not even mentioned in the campaign.

    Again, tell her to get a good lawyer..

  31. I’ve already posted my thoughts on this issue, and I think that the majority of posters on this board are thinking critically about the Duncans’ predicament. The court of public opinion may not be giving the Duncans’ a fair shake, but the city schools are not obligated to join in their fight. I see no reason why the school Supe. wouldn’t act to avoid inheriting controversy from another city.

  32. Do you know that Mr. Duncan ran for office (State Representative) in Indiana? Do you really think that would have been allowed had some misconduct been in play?

    To run for state representative in Indiana, if it’s like most states in the U.S., one need only a) live in the district that one seeks to represent and b) be 18 or older. “Misconduct in play” is not a disqualifier, no matter how grave.

  33. True, I didn’t mean it from the point of view of a disqualifier, but rather that this “controversy” simply does not exist. They have lived free from this disenfranchisement for years- that is until your superintendent ran from a squeeky wheel. Just like the tail-tucking school board who basically said “that’s her decision.” I think that when you get this much activity from a hiring decision it is time to be a leader and not a politician.

Comments are closed.