A Tennessee man who murdered his wife in a bathtub for the life insurance money has been allowed to keep $200,000 of her insurance settlement.
The strange case began in 2003 when Teresa Larkin was found dead by her then-11-year-old daughter Tia in the Johnson City home they shared with Dale Keith Larkin, Tia's stepfather. A partial autopsy was performed on the body but no X-rays were taken prior to burial, according to The Associated Press.
Larkin stood to collect a total of $700,000 on four life insurance policies in his wife's name before his stepdaughter, who suspected Larkin of the murder, filed a lawsuit to block the windfall.
In 2006, the suit was settled with Tia receiving $500,000 and Larkin getting $203,000 of the death benefits.
Three years later, Johnson City homicide investigators convinced prosecutors to exhume the body, and a second autopsy was performed. It revealed that the victim had suffered 21 separate injuries, including breaks to her sternum and both arms, prior to drowning.
Charges were filed against Larkin, who was subsequently convicted of his wife's murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2011.
Tia Larkin returned to court to recover Dale Larkin's share of the life insurance settlement, claiming her stepfather had misrepresented his innocence and citing Tennessee's "slayer's statute" that prohibits those involved in murder from inheriting from the deceased.
Life insurance generally bars murderers from receiving proceeds from their victim's life policy just as common law forbids individuals from profiting from wrongdoing. And a life insurance company doesn't require an actual murder conviction to deny a claim; intentional neglect or even want of an "insurable interest" in the insured can be enough to block payment of the death benefit.
But the appellate court ruled that the stepdaughter freely agreed to split the life insurance settlement with Larkin, even though she did not believe he was innocent.
"This court is not happy with the results of our decision," wrote Appellate Judge D. Michael Swiney in the opinion released last week. "We are aware that our decision may appear inequitable given the results. We, however, are not free to decide cases based upon our personal preferences but instead must decide them based upon the law."
What do you think? Was justice served in the Larkin decision?
Follow me on Twitter.
Subscribe to Bankrate newsletters today!