Fate of man accused of 1991 murder in hands of jury

by: Kevin McCarty Updated:


Pierce County, Wash. - It has been 23 years since Claudia McCorvey was shot and paralyzed, but she is as convinced as ever that the man who pulled the trigger is accused murderer Larry Tarrer. “I know who shot me,” said McCorvey. "There’s no doubt in my mind. I’ll know it to the day I die.”

Tarrer, 40, is now waiting for a jury to decide his fate after his third trial for a 1991 shooting that left McCorvey in a wheelchair, took the life of her unborn son and the life of Lavern Simpkins.

It all happened at a small house party on Jan. 9, 1991. Prosecutors said Tarrer, then 17, accused McCorvey and Simpkins of stealing some crack cocaine from him and opened fire with a .45 caliber handgun. Simpkins died at the scene. A bullet in McCorvey’s spine was severed and forced the emergency C-section of her child; she was six months pregnant at the time and the boy died moments later.

During closing arguments in Pierce County court on Monday, deputy prosecuting attorney John Need pointed at Tarrer, telling jurors, “The person who shot them sits right here in this courtroom: the defendant Larry Tarrer."

Tarrer pleaded guilty to the shootings in 1991 when he was 17 years old, but successfully had the plea thrown out more than a decade later. He was convicted after a second trial in 2010 but won the right to a third trial on appeal, claiming Neeb’s closing argument prejudiced jurors. Tarrer converted to Islam while in prison and while awaiting his second trial successfully sued the Pierce County Jail in a high profile lawsuit, claiming his religious rights were being denied.

Tarrer’s attorney, Kent Underwood, has based his defense on what he calls a “case of mistaken identification." Underwood said McCorvey identified the wrong man in 1991 and that her memory has faded after two decades. He put an expert on eyewitnesses on the stand in an effort to convince jurors accounts were flawed and could not always be trusted. McCorvey denies she picked the wrong man, as does Brenda Blockman, Lavern Simpkins’ sister. “We shouldn’t have to be here 23 years later,” Blockman said. “This happened back in 1991, this is just ridiculous.”

The jury was scheduled to continue deliberations on Tuesday.