This wasn’t the first time her husband had tried to kill her. Sandy Duyst had survived an attempt before. Many would question why she continued a relationship with him if he had tried to murder her. It’s unthinkable. And it was a decision that unfortunately ended up costing her her life.
Sandra Duyst, 40, was married to David Duyst Sr., a prosperous insurance salesman, and the couple lived in Michigan with their three children. The high school sweethearts had tied the knot after they graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Eventually, they moved to Alpine Township where Sandy, a world-class equestrian, could live out her passion for raising and training horses.
On the 19th of November, 1998, a neighbor heard a knock on the front door. Upon answering, they found Sandy severely injured and bleeding. She said she had crawled from her barn to their home for help after being kicked in the head by one of her horses. Once at the hospital, she repeated her story to the medical personnel.
Family and friends say after suffering from cranial injuries, Sandy just wasn’t herself. Following the incident, she struggled with depression and she and her husband began having marital disputes, which led to them no longer sharing the same bed.
Unfortunately what Sandy didn’t know until shortly before her death was that David was having an affair with a woman he worked with, his secretary, Linda Ryan. This scandalous relationship became lethal when they decided Sandy needed to be out of the picture… permanently.
Initially, investigators ruled Sandy Duyst’s death a suicide, and rightfully so, as David was successful in portraying it that way. On the 29th of March, 2000, he called 911 to report his wife dead in their bedroom from an apparent gunshot wound. In her hand lay a Smith & Wesson 9-millimeter semiautomatic, a gun registered in David’s name. However, crime scene investigators noticed an absence of gunshot residue or blood spatter on her hands.
When questioned about the discovery, David claimed that he had been watching television in another room and had fallen asleep. When he was awoken by the sound of a gunshot, he rushed to the bedroom where he found his wife’s body. By his own admission, David retrieved the gun from her hand and removed the magazine.
An autopsy was conducted on the body and the coroner determined Sandy had been shot not once but twice, dismantling the suicide theory. High-velocity blood spatter that matched Sandy forensically was found on David’s shirt. He told authorities that she had coughed on him while he was checking on her.
Sandy Duyst had a significant $500,000 life insurance policy payout on her in the event of a suicide. David seemingly had a lot to gain in her death. He would be able to keep the home they shared, receive the payout, avoid alimony payments from a messy divorce, and finally be public with his relationship with his secretary.
Although she was gone, Sandy wasn’t finished telling her story.
Mary Ellen Spring, Sandy’s sister, told police that in 1999, Sandra called her and said if anything should happen to her, she had concealed a letter for her to read in the china cabinet of the Duyst home.
Police found the letter hidden in the back of the cabinet, right where Sandy had said it would be, addressed to Mary Ellen. Within the letter, Sandra insisted, “I could never, ever take my own life. Never. If anything happens to me, please take a closer look at David Duyst. He could be my killer.”
Shockingly, the letter revealed that Sandy knew she had not been kicked by a horse a year earlier, but that her husband had tried to kill her. She disclosed that the couple was arguing over money while feeding the horses in the barn when David suddenly struck her with an ax hammer.
Words written by the victim herself insisted that if anything were to happen to her again, that David was responsible. With this information in their possession, authorities arrested David and charged him with the murder of his wife. The autopsy performed on Sandy revealed two separate bullet trajectories, supporting the notion that the trigger of the gun had been pulled twice.
In response to this, David tried explaining away the second shot as a double-fire caused by a misfire from the gun, but investigators had the gun tested for this theory and it was ruled out as the cause. The prosecution’s expert witness, Michigan State Police firearms examiner, Jeffery Crump, testified that he test-fired the weapon six times and determined the gun was working properly.
Stephen Cohle and Vincent DiMaio, doctors in forensic medicine, came to an agreement after analysis of Sandy’s wounds that each shot would have incapacitated her instantly, giving further credence to homicide and proving it impossible for her to have shot herself twice.
An expert in crime scene reconstruction, Rod Englert, testified that the scene was “consistent with someone firing the fatal shots while standing behind Sandra.”
David’s on-the-stand testimony included his claims that Sandy had attempted suicide at least three times prior to her death and suffered from severe depression. He stated that at the time of her death, his wife knew he wanted a divorce and that he stood to gain custody of the children over her.
Linda Ryan was also questioned about her knowledge, if any, of the murder of her lover’s wife. She told authorities that she had made plans with David for them to both leave their current spouses and exclusively be together. Evidently, she was more serious about these plans than David seemed to be, as by the time Sandy died, Linda had already divorced her husband and was shopping for an engagement ring.
Defense attorney, F. Martin Tieber, argued that the forensic evidence would exonerate his client. The defense’s witness, blood-spatter expert Herbert MacDonell, who had testified in the O.J. Simpson trial, confirmed that the high-velocity spatter on David’s clothing could in fact be caused by the victim coughing up blood.
Teiber contended that the practice of insurance salespeople taking large life insurance policies out on their spouses was not unusual and set a good example for their clients. David was also given a polygraph test and passed. Defense attorney, David Dodge, went as far as to claim the victim had shot herself twice deliberately in an attempt to frame her husband.
The Duyst children gave their accounts of the night their mother died in support of their father. Two of the children stated that after hearing two loud noises, approximately half a second apart, coming from the bedroom, they heard their father’s footsteps hurriedly coming from the direction of the TV room, as he had claimed.
However, a few details in their testimony incidentally supported the homicide theory, such as hearing two separate gunshots, recalling their mother’s normal demeanor on the day before her death, and her fear of guns.
In March of 2001, David Duyst Sr. was found guilty of his wife’s murder and sentenced to life without parole, including a two-year felony conviction for firearm possession during the commission of a felony. He spent his years in prison filing for appeal and claiming ineffective counsel but to no avail. His appeals were denied by the Michigan Court of Appeals. He died in the Saginaw Correctional Facility in 2008 at the age of 58.