MICHIGAN CITY – In less than a week, a Long Beach man accused of killing his wife almost seven years ago will have the opportunity to defend himself before a jury.
John B. Larkin has maintained since 2012 that his wife’s death was an accident, and that instead of intending to shoot her, the gun accidentally fired while he was trying to keep it away from her.
According to court documents, there may be evidence to support his claim.
Stacey Renee Simon Larkin, 41, was fatally shot on Dec. 11, 2012, by what former La Porte County Coroner John Sullivan once described as “multiple gunshot wounds to her chest.”
Court documents specify it was a 9-millimeter Taurus Millennium Pro Model PT 111 that killed her. That same model gun was later determined to be defective and was recalled.
A stipulation filed in La Porte Circuit Court says a firearms examiner with the Indiana State Police learned of the recall on May 26, 2016, and informed the special prosecutor of the defect and recall on the same date.
However, special prosecutor Stan Levco never disclosed this information to Larkin’s defense attorneys, who only learned of it after their own gun expert informed them.
“Larkin discovered that the State has withheld material evidence that the gun involved in the shooting was defective and could discharge even when the safety is engaged or without the trigger being pulled when the gun is dropped or bumped,” Larkin’s attorneys write in their most recent motion to dismiss the case.
"This withheld evidence strikes at the heart of Larkin’s defense that he accidentally shot Stacey while struggling to keep the gun away from her.”
Special Judge Roger Bradford denied the defense’s request for dismissal in July, but agreed that the state’s failure to disclose that information was yet another act of misconduct in a case already riddled with it.
“The failure to disclose this evidence and having the defense find out on its own that these defects exist certainly is an addition to the egregious pattern of prosecutorial misconduct that flows throughout this case,” Bradford writes. “However… The trial in this case is not scheduled until September of 2019, and therefore the defense will have adequate time to explore this evidence.”
Larkin’s case was dismissed by a Pulaski County trial court in 2016 as a result of repeated police and prosecutorial misconduct throughout the course of the investigation.
The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the decision to dismiss; but the Indiana Supreme Court reversed them both in 2017, ordering the case be returned to trial court.
At trial court, the judge was to assess each individual piece of evidence to determine what is tainted and what is admissible during jury trial.
In Larkin’s appeal to the high court, prior to learning about the gun recall, he alleged four instances of misconduct:
• Long Beach and Michigan City police officers continued to question and collect evidence from Larkin after denying him the ability to contact his attorney on the night of the shooting.
• Prosecutors recorded and transcribed a privileged attorney-client conversation between Larkin and his defense attorneys inside an interview room at the La Porte County Jail two days later.
• Witness tampering in the form of two Long Beach Police officers inadvertently recording themselves conspiring to persuade a Michigan City officer about changing his testimony regarding an interaction he’d had with the victim approximately six months prior to her death, when she was allegedly exhibiting erratic behavior.
• Evidence tampering in the form of chain of custody issues and damage caused to the gun safe door while in state custody.
Bradford issued his ruling in July on the evidence that addresses those four criteria.
As it pertains to the continued questioning and recorded conversation – both of which were ordered to be suppressed by a trial court several years ago, Bradford said he read the transcripts of both and compared the information gleaned from them with that which was presented during Larkin’s on-the-record interview with prosecutors in the presence of his attorneys.
“Having read those items several times, the Court finds that the State gained no information from the suppressed items that it did not receive in its interview with Larkin when Larkin’s attorney was present,” Bradford writes. “Therefore, any such evidence obtained is not tainted.”
When it comes to witness and evidence tampering, he said, “… The defense argues that suppressing that evidence is actually beneficial to the State and harmful to the Defendant. Therefore, the Court will allow evidence of that witness tampering and the irregularity in handing the safe to be presented to the jury in this case and, as to the safe door, instruct the jury on spoliation of evidence and any inferences it may draw from that.”
Jury selection in Larkin’s trial will begin at 8 a.m. Monday in La Porte Superior Court 1.
Larkin faces a sole count of voluntary manslaughter as a Class A felony, punishable by 20-50 years in prison. He remains free on a $10,000 cash bond he posted shortly after his arrest.