Woman sentenced to 18 years for running over friend on Tacoma street

Tacoma News TribuneAugust 20, 2013 

Denise Larkins insisted Tuesday that she didn't mean to run over her friend on a Tacoma street two years ago.

Despite a Pierce County jury convicting her of second-degree murder in June, Larkins said the death of Michelle Johnson was a "tragic accident."

Superior Court Judge Jerry Costello disagreed.

Saying Larkins surely intended to run down her friend with an SUV, Costello sentenced the 35-year-old woman to 18 years, four months in prison.

The judge cited video evidence shown at trial that showed Larkins' Chevrolet Tahoe turning a corner and striking Johnson, 45, as she tried to cross the street in the 4300 block of South J Street.

"It's been said that a picture speaks a thousand words," Costello said. "Here there are moving pictures that show quite plainly to this court's satisfaction that the assault with the automobile was deliberate and intentional."

Johnson died Dec. 16, 2011.

She and Larkins had spent the day running errands in Larkins' car. An argument broke out between them at the end of the day, and Johnson allegedly hit Larkins in the head or face before getting out of the Tahoe and entering a nearby house.

She exited the house a short time later and was walking away when Larkins ran her down.

Deputy prosecutor Phil Sorensen on Tuesday asked for a sentence of 20 years, pointing out Larkins' previous conviction in Oklahoma for armed robbery and the fact that Johnson was walking away when she was struck.

"This was an entirely avoidable, and I'm sure regrettable, situation," Sorensen said.

Johnson's adult daughter, Desiree Brown, said she misses her mother every day and is grief-stricken that her children will never know their grandmother.

"I can't even explain the amount of pain and grief this has caused my family," Brown said.

Defense attorney Mary K. High recommended a sentence below the low end of the standard range, which in Larkins' case was 144 months.

High said her client suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and depression after a horrific childhood. Larkins' "psychological fragility" influenced her decision-making on the day Johnson died, High said.

Larkins then had her turn to speak.

She apologized for Johnson's death, saying, "I have hurt her family and mine."

But Larkins maintained it was an accident, that she never intended to hit her friend.

She asked Costello to "please have mercy on me."

Costello took some pity but not as much as High had sought.

"The court certainly has great sympathy for what Ms. Larkins endured in her childhood," the judge said. "I don't have any doubt at all that it has profoundly effected you in your adulthood."

Still, he said, Larkins knew what she was doing when she drove over Johnson. He then handed down the 220-month sentence.

"It believe that is just," Costello said.


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