The Indiana Court of Appeals on Monday ordered the acquittal of John Larkin, convicted of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2012 shooting death of his wife. In overturning the verdict, the appellate panel concluded the LaPorte Superior Court erred in instructing Larkin’s jury.
John B. Larkin of Long Beach was charged with Class A felony manslaughter after being accused of fatally shooting his wife, Stacey Renee Larkin, in December 2012. Long Beach Police Department officers found his wife dead in their home from two gunshot wounds.
His case proceeded against a history of police and prosecutorial misconduct that led the trial court to dismiss the charges against him, which a divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in June 2017.
Also that year, former LaPorte deputy prosecutor Robert Neary was suspended from the practice of law for four years for, among other things, eavesdropping on criminal defendants’ conversations with their attorneys, including Larkin.
Indiana Supreme Court justices, however, reinstated the manslaughter charge against Larkin in June 2018, finding dismissal to be “an extreme remedy” for police and prosecutorial misconduct.
The case went to trial in September 2019, where the prosecutor requested that the trial court instruct the jury on the offense of involuntary manslaughter, which was granted.
A jury ultimately found Larkin guilty of Class C felony involuntary manslaughter, which his counsel had moved to vacate, arguing that the state had six years to amend the information to charge him with involuntary manslaughter or some form of battery but never did.
Representing Larkin, defense attorney Stacy Uliana of Bargersville argued, among other things, that with minutes before final instructions and closing arguments, Larkin was provided a copy of the state’s proposed jury instruction on involuntary manslaughter based on a battery, and he objected. But the trial court issued an order denying Larkin’s motion to vacate the judgment and sentenced him to two years, stayed until the completion of the appeal.
Larkin claimed the shooting was an accident in the course of self-defense.
While a person may shoot another person with an intent to batter rather than with an intent to kill, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that the charging instrument did not make such an allegation in the case of John B. Larkin v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-2705.
“The State does not assert that it advanced an argument that Larkin intended to commit a battery by shooting Stacey. Rather, in requesting the involuntary manslaughter instruction, the prosecutor argued Larkin pushed Stacey and that was a battery. Additionally, the prosecutor argued to the jury in closing that Larkin intended to commit a battery by pushing Stacey. Nor can we conclude the charging instrument made an allegation that Larkin committed battery by pushing Stacey,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the unanimous appellate court.
“Stacey died as a result of her gunshot wounds. The charging information referred to a handgun. It did not allege all of the elements of a battery by pushing. We decline to conclude that the mere assertion that the charged offense was committed by means of a handgun, without more, automatically means the information also asserted a battery. The charging instrument did not assert a battery or incidental killing,” it concluded.
Thus, because involuntary manslaughter was not an inherently or factually included lesser offense of the charged crime, the appellate court concluded that the jury should not have received an involuntary manslaughter instruction.
Additionally, it found there to be, at a minimum, a reasonable doubt as to whether the state’s charging instrument provided Larkin with fair notice of the charge of which he was eventually convicted. The appellate court ultimately concluded that the trial court erred in instructing the jury on involuntary manslaughter.
“For the foregoing reasons, we reverse Larkin’s conviction for involuntary manslaughter and remand with instructions to enter a judgment of acquittal and order that he be discharged,” the panel concluded.