KNOXVILLE (AP) — A Tennessee appeals court has reluctantly ruled that a Johnson City man convicted of killing his wife in a bathtub for the insurance money can keep $200,000 in life insurance proceeds.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported Wednesday that the Tennessee Court of Appeals agreed with a trial court’s decision to let Dale Keith Larkin keep the life insurance proceeds he collected in a settlement with the daughter of his wife, Teresa Larkin, who was found dead in a bathtub in 2003.
“This court is not happy with the results of our decision,” wrote Appellate Judge D. Michael Swiney in the opinion released last week.
Teresa Larkin’s body was found by her then-11-year-old daughter, Tia Gentry, in the bathtub of the Johnson City home she shared with her stepfather, Dale Keith Larkin.
The opinion said Gentry believed from the start that her stepfather was responsible for her mother’s death. A partial autopsy was conducted, but no x-rays were taken and she was buried.
Her husband stood to collect money from four life insurance policies that would result in $700,000 in net proceeds. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of Gentry to keep Larkin from getting the entire sum. Ultimately the sides agreed to settle the lawsuit in 2006, and Gentry collected $500,000 and Larkin received $203,000.
The Johnson City Police Department continued to work the case and in 2009 convinced prosecutors to have her body exhumed. A second autopsy revealed that she had suffered 21 separate injuries, including a broken sternum and bone breaks in her arms, before she was found drowned in the bathtub.
Charges were filed against Dale Larkin and in February 2011 he was convicted in her death. He is now serving a life sentence.
Gentry filed a lawsuit alleging her stepfather tricked her into a settlement in the life insurance case by claiming he was innocent in her mother’s death. She also cited a Tennessee law, also known as the “slayer’s statute,” that bars people convicted of murder from inheriting property from the victim.
In the appellate court decision, the court noted that Gentry did not believe Larkin’s claims of innocence, but had agreed to a deal with him on the insurance funds anyway. That meant she was stuck with the deal, the court ruled.
“We are aware that our decision may appear inequitable given the results,” Swiney wrote. “We, however, are not free to decide cases based upon our personal preferences but instead must decide them based upon the law.”