MICHIGAN CITY — It’s official: John B. Larkin has been convicted of fatally shooting his wife in 2012.
The jury deliberated for more than 12 hours Friday before coming to the conclusion that Larkin is, in fact, guilty of manslaughter. But not the voluntary manslaughter charge he’s been fighting for almost seven years – involuntary manslaughter as a lesser-included offense.
“We’re extremely disappointed that every piece of evidence at trial showed he was telling the truth and that this was a tragedy and not a crime,” defense attorney Stacy Uliana said after the verdict was delivered just before midnight. “I am perplexed at what happened tonight.”
According to the state, Larkin fatally shot his wife twice during a domestic dispute inside a closet in their Long Beach home on Dec. 11, 2012.
He was charged shortly thereafter with voluntary manslaughter, indicating he knowingly or intentionally killed his wife in an act of sudden heat.
It wasn’t until Friday morning, minutes before closing arguments were to begin, that the state requested the jury be allowed to consider involuntary manslaughter – inadvertently killing someone during the commission of a battery – as a lesser-included crime should they not be able to convict on the voluntary manslaughter charge.
Uliana objected, but the judge overruled her and granted the state’s request.
She said after the verdict that allowing involuntary manslaughter to fly was yet another violation of her client’s constitutional rights, as it gave the defense just a few minutes to prepare to defend a battery when they had been prepping for the nearly seven years to defend a shooting.
“The problem with this is that it’s not the same act,” Uliana said. “So, you have a shooting, but now it’s changed into a battery when they realized they can’t prove the shooting. And what made it worse is that we didn’t even know they were doing that. I never even saw the word battery until we arrived at court this morning.”
Throughout the weeklong trial, the defense argued that the shots were fired both accidentally and in self-defense as the couple struggled; and they brought in expert witnesses who confirmed their claims.
But the jury apparently didn’t buy it.
Now, Judge Roger Bradford is tasked with determining an appropriate penalty for the Class C felony charge, which carries a potential sentence of 2-8 years in the Indiana Department of Correction – a far cry from the 20-50 years Larkin would have faced if he had been convicted of the Class A felony voluntary manslaughter charge.
Bradford scheduled an argued sentencing hearing for Oct. 21 at 1:30 p.m. in La Porte Superior Court 1, and allowed Larkin to remain free until then on the $10,000 cash bond he posted in 2012.
Uliana indicated she intends to appeal both the sentence and the conviction.
“I’m as confident as you can be that it will get reversed,” she said.
Larkin almost skirted the DOC entirely when his case was thrown out in 2016.
After all the judges in La Porte County had recused themselves, Larkin was sent to a Pulaski County court, where Judge Patrick Blankenship found the prosecutorial and police misconduct in the case to be egregious enough to warrant dismissal.
The major points of misconduct Blankenship noted in June 2016 were that:
n Larkin was denied the right to call his attorney on the night of the shooting after he had been arrested, although police continued to question him and collect evidence from his person.
n A privileged conversation between Larkin and his defense attorneys inside the La Porte County Jail two days later was illegally recorded, transcribed and distributed to staff at the La Porte County Prosecutor’s Office.
n Two Long Beach Police officers inadvertently recorded themselves conspiring to tamper with a witness in the case.
n The chief deputy prosecutor at the time tampered with evidence, damaging the Larkins’ gun safe door between the state’s receipt of it from the FBI and forwarding to a defense forensic expert.
The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed that it was enough to warrant tossing the case, but the Indiana Supreme Court overturned both courts’ decisions in 2017. It sent the case back to the trial court for the judge to analyze each piece of evidence to determine which were tainted and which were still admissible.
Judge Blankenship had retired by then, so the case found its way to Bradford, a Porter County judge.
While in Bradford’s court, an additional act of prosecutorial misconduct was identified after the judge was made aware that the gun in Larkin’s case was recalled in 2015 because of a manufacturing defect that allowed for it to fire when dropped or when the safety is partially activated.
Special prosecutor Stanley Levco reportedly learned this information in 2016, but never disclosed it to the defense, which only found out after their own gun expert informed them in 2019.
The trial this week consisted of testimony from expert and character witnesses presented by both the state and the defense.
A defense-hired forensic firearm examiner provided video evidence showing the gun used to kill 41-year-old Stacey Renee Simon Larkin was defective because it fired when it hit the floor on two out of 24 drop tests, as Larkin claimed it had the first time his wife was shot.
Other witnesses – including two of the Larkins’ four children – provided a detailed history of Stacey’s documented mental health issues and alleged substance abuse. Among the resulting behavioral problems, they said, were an incident in which she threatened suicide with a gun, and another in which she was arrested for domestic battery against John.
The defense claimed the evidence proved John was acting reasonably by trying to keep the gun away from Stacey, and that he inadvertently fired it while trying to push her away from him as she charged him.
However, the state said shooting a person twice cannot be an accident. And they maintained that Larkin’s stoic demeanor from the time of his 911 call at the scene through the end of the trial indicated he had no remorse for what happened, and likely perpetrated the shooting in an act of sudden heat.
The defense requested 60-90 minutes for argued sentencing on Oct. 21. The state said it “won’t need much time.”