No one knows what Timothy Edward Tarr was thinking when he shot neighbor Alcides Ruben Washington through the right eye on May 24, 2016 – or whether Tarr was thinking at all.
His defense attorney says the ex-Army marksman wasn’t thinking, and acted on reflex – a result of his military training and combat experience – when he fired one shot from his .45-caliber pistol around 7:30 p.m. that day, fatally wounding his across-the-street neighbor.
The prosecutor says Tarr obviously meant to use the gun, because the holster he wore on his hip had two safety catches that had to be tripped before the weapon could be drawn.
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All the evidence in the tragic shooting involving two once-friendly Stone Creek Court families will not be heard in court, as Tarr has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
He pleaded to the reduced charge Tuesday before Muscogee Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan Jr., who has not yet set a sentencing date. Until then Tarr will be subject to a “presentencing investigation” that probes his background and the circumstances of the crime.
According to prosecutors and police, these are the circumstances:
Washington, 33, was friends with Tarr’s son Chris. He had come over to the Tarrs’ 6736 Stone Creek Court home to help work on a backyard shed.
Tarr, then 50 years old, had a paintball course with targets set up in a separate enclosure with a six-foot privacy fence. Washington went into the course and started firing paintballs.
Tarr’s defense attorney Jennifer Curry said Tarr was concerned because children who weren’t wearing eye protection were playing within range of the paintball gun. Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker said Tarr was upset because Washington was wasting paintballs.
Tarr walked over to the privacy fence and yelled at Washington, telling him to stop shooting paintballs. When Washington did not stop, Tarr drew his pistol and waved it at Washington, and then, according to investigators, held the gun in a “low-ready” position.
Tarr said Washington turned toward him with the paintball gun, and Tarr shot him.
Police said Tarr gave them varying accounts of how this happened: He said that he meant only to intimidate Washington with the gun; that he meant only to fire a warning shot; that he was acting in self-defense in fear of being hit in the eye with a paintball; that he fired out of reflex; and that he didn’t realize he’d fired the gun.
Whitaker said no one else knows what happened, because no one else was watching at that instant. Others nearby were looking elsewhere.
As Tarr’s wife, an Army nurse and officer, tried to give Washington first-aid, Tarr unloaded the pistol, placed it on the ground, and raised his hands in surrender when police arrived.
Washington, the father of six sons ages 3 through 16, lay dying as his wife, Temiko, came running from across the street. In court Tuesday, she described finding her husband going into shock, the exit wound having blown out the back of his head.
“We have to live with that every day,” she told Jordan.
Washington was an organ donor, so doctors kept him on life support, though he never regained consciousness. “He died helping someone,” said his widow, who added she sat by him in the hospital as his brain swelled until his bandages had to be loosened.
“His face was coming apart, and I just sat there wishing could help him,” she said.
She said she and her sons since have moved twice, at first to get away from Tarr’s home, because they could not bear seeing Tarr with his children, she said.
“We have six boys. They don’t have their father there,” said the mother.
Though authorities have said Washington and Tarr were friends, she said they were not: “None of us ever had interactions with Timothy,” she said.
Of Tarr’s sentence, she told Jordan: “I’m compassionate myself, but I want justice.”
Besides voluntary manslaughter, Tarr pleaded guilty to using a firearm to commit a crime, which carries a mandatory five-year sentence, though it may be served on probation.
The maximum penalty for voluntary manslaughter is 20 years in prison, Curry said, so Tarr, 51, could serve up to 25 years with the additional weapons violation.