It was a decision Tennessee appellate judges didn’t want to make, but state law forced a ruling that will allow a man serving life in prison for killing his wife to keep more than $700,000 in life insurance proceeds he collected from her death.
Dale Larkin was convicted in 2011 of drowning his wife, Teri Larkin, in a bathtub inside their north Johnson City home in 2003. Larkin wasn’t charged until 2009 because Teri Larkin’s death was initially ruled an accident.
State prosecutors had her body exhumed and a second forensic pathologist determined Teri Larkin was murdered.
Prior to Dale Larkin being charged, his former stepdaughter, Tia Gentry — who found her mother unresponsive in the bathtub — sued him for the wrongful death of her mother. After much attorney wrangling, the two reached an agreement on Teri Larkin’s life insurance policies. That agreement split the life insurance so Larkin received around $750,000 and Gentry received $500,000. Around $180,000 of Gentry’s award went to attorney fees.
After Larkin’s conviction, Gentry sued her former stepfather again, basing the claim on Tennessee’s “slayer law.” It states no one convicted of murder can benefit financially from that crime.
But Gentry’s suit was denied on the trial court level when Judge Jean Stanley ruled the agreement between Gentry and Larkin was not negated by the fact he was ultimately convicted of his wife’s death.
Gentry appealed Stanley’s ruling to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which released an opinion on Friday affirming the original ruling.
“We are aware that our decision may appear inequitable given the results. The court is not happy with the results of our decision. We, however, are not free to decide cases based upon our personal preferences but instead must decide them based upon the law,” wrote Judge D. Michael Swiney on behalf of the Court of Appeals.
The court noted the agreement Larkin and Gentry reached eliminated the risk of either losing all the insurance proceeds, but also established a judgment that can’t be changed.
“The circumstances by which a party may overturn a prior final judgment are narrow,” the court stated.
Larkin is serving a life sentence and is appealing his conviction to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.