Murder conviction thrown out

by: Kevin McCarty Updated:

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Pierce County, Wash. - A man who once pleaded guilty to a double murder and attempted murder in 1991 has won a new trial after an appeals court overturned his conviction because a prosecutor brought up the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, during closing arguments.

Larry Tarrer, 40, who converted to Islam while in prison, argued that invoking 9/11 unfairly prejudiced the jury during his 2010 re-trial. Tarrer was arrested in 1991 for the murder of Lavern Simpkins and for wounding Claudia McCorvey and the death of her unborn son. Both where shot over a drug deal. McCorvey was left paralyzed and in a wheelchair because of her injuries. "It's ridiculous to me, it's totally ridiculous." said McCorvey.

Tarrer has a long legal road behind him with his 1991 guilty plea thrown out, a re-trial in 2010 and now another trial. He won his appeal based on closing arguments by deputy prosecuting attorney John Neeb who brought up 9/11 during closing arguments while making a point about reasonable doubt. "Sept. 11, 2001, two airplanes flew into the World Trade Center in New York. I don't know if any of you were there, but I believe probably none of you were there. Do you have any doubt?" Neeb said to the jury.

Tarrer is not only Muslim but had successfully sued the Pierce County jail before his trial over claims that Muslims incarcerated there were not being allowed access to Halal food, group prayer and other practices of their faith. The case got quite a bit of publicity and Tarrer's appeal argued that the prosecutor and some jurors were aware of the lawsuit. That made the statement prejudicial, according to Tarrer. The Washington state appeals court agreed, throwing out the conviction. "The State committed misconduct by invoking the 9/11 terrorist attacks in his reasonable doubt explanation because, he asserts, it unfairly prejudiced Tarrer, a Muslim."

Claudia McCorvey was angered by the ruling. "First of all Larry wasn't a Muslim when he did this, OK?" said McCorvey. "I don't think he should have the rights to anything Muslim because he wasn't a Muslim then."

Teasa Fowler, Lavern Simpkins daughter who was 6 years old when her mother died, is also angry that Tarrer will get another chance in court. "It's kind of ridiculous that he gets so many tries, especially when a person that's still alive is pointing the finger at him and saying you're the one that shot me," said Fowler.