Before a judge sent him to prison for voluntary manslaughter, Army veteran Timothy Edward Tarr detailed the circumstances leading to his fatally shooting neighbor Alcides Ruben Washington through the right eye last year at his Stone Creek Court home.
The defendant also offered a detailed account of his bloody experiences while serving overseas, and how that affected his reaction to Washington’s turning toward him with a paintball gun on May 24, 2016, after Tarr ordered him to quit shooting it.
But what he told Judge Frank Jordan Jr. before his sentencing Thursday sounded more like rationalization than regret. He never apologized for leaving Washington’s six sons fatherless, and despite defense attorney Jennifer Curry’s argument that post-traumatic stress disorder affected his thinking, he never said his shooting his neighbor was unreasonable.
The former sergeant first-class who served as a military police officer in Kosovo and Iraq said Washington came over to his 6736 Stone Creek Court home that day to install a ceiling fan, and later went to a fenced paintball course set up in the backyard. He was firing paintballs at a target about 35 yards distant when Tarr told him to stop wasting the ammunition, Tarr said.
He said Washington offered to pay for the paintballs, but that wouldn’t compensate for the carbon-dioxide cartridges that power the gun. To show Washington he was serious, Tarr unholstered the .45-caliber pistol he was wearing, he said: “I pulled it out of my holster and put it at my side.”
Though a chest-high privacy fence separated the two, Tarr showed Washington the pistol, making sure he saw it, he said. Then he held the gun at the “low ready position” at his side, he said.
He said Washington, who had been looking at him over his shoulder, turned around to face him, and raised the paintball gun.
Tarr said his neighbor was just 15 yards away, and a paintball fired so close could take out his eye or penetrate his brain.
He said he could “see down the length of the barrel” of the paintball gun, and could “see the look in his eye,” calling the effect “something I’ve been trained to respond to,” and adding, “I perceived a threat to my eyesight and possibly my life.”
So he reacted, shooting first: “His finger was on the trigger. I was able to get my shot before he fired,” he said, calling it “a reflex or reaction to his action.”
Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker asked Tarr what drove him to draw the pistol.
“I was upset that he was not paying attention to what he was being told,” Tarr said.
“You were upset,” Whitaker said.
“I was getting upset,” Tarr replied.
Tarr earlier testified to his combat experience, including an incident in which a Iraqi man armed with an AK-47 forced his relatives to form a circle before gunning them down. A day later, only a 3-year-old was found alive in the home, which was dark and lacked air-conditioning because it had no electricity.
A pool of blood about a quarter-inch deep covered the floor, and the stain remained on his only pair of boots for the rest of his tour of duty, he said.
He also recalled dodging bullets from a Serbian ambush while staffing a checkpoint with Russian soldiers in Kosovo. The checkpoint itself was not targeted, but it was within range of the combat, he said.
He was not the only witness testifying to a bloody, traumatizing memory.
Washington’s widow Temiko Washington told the court of being called over to the Tarr’s home the day her husband was wounded, and finding he’d been shot in the head.
“Half his face was coming off,” she said.
She stayed by his side in the hospital before he finally died, at age 33. His head was not well covered there, she said: “His brains were spilling out of his eye socket.”
The Washingtons’ sons range in age from 3 to 16, the youngest twins, one of whom still believes his father has gone to a dentist appointment, she said: “He wants to know when his Dad will be home from the dentist.”
She since has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and depression, and had to move away from Stone Creek Court to avoid any interaction with Tarr’s family, she said: “There was a lot of back and forth between the Tarr family and ours.”
Tarr’s testimony to his experiences in 34 years of military service did not elicit sympathy from the victim’s side of the courtroom, where it provoked angry murmurs regarding its relevance.
Tarr’s psychological evaluation showed he was not delusional, so he could not have viewed Washington as an enemy.
Dr. Rebecca Toland of Columbus State University, a defense witness with expertise in PTSD, testified that soldiers coming home from combat need one to three years to return to a “normal mental state.” If upon return they continue to serve also as law enforcement officers, they remain “continuously in the mindset” of needing to protect and serve, she said: “They’re trained to protect and to kill.”
Among the symptoms of PTSD are aggression, insomnia, agitation and seclusion, she said.
Tarr’s ex-wife Deborah Tarr, who served 33 years as an Army nurse and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel, said her former husband became “jumpy” after his deployments, and attended at least one session to address his issues. “I tried pushing him to get help,” she said.
But the military attaches a stigma to those who are diagnosed with PTSD, she said, and they fear losing employment and benefits, so they avoid seeking therapy: “That’s why you have hundreds of suicides every day.”
She said Timothy Tarr had sustained two traumatic brain injuries. Her former husband said one was the result of a motorcycle accident.
After witness testimony, Curry asked Jordan to give her client five years in prison, noting he had no criminal history, and had shot Washington because of his experiences in the Army.
“He was programmed to respond and react in a certain way,” she said, adding later: “He’s not trained or programmed to stop and think.”
Whitaker countered that Timothy Tarr had “argued justification” for what he did, offering only a rationale instead of taking responsibility: “He has shown no remorse.” Whitaker asked Jordan to give Tarr the maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter, 20 years in prison.
Jordan split the difference, calling the homicide a tragedy that had torn apart two families, ruining the life of a soldier who had served his country, and ending the life of a husband and father of six.
He gave Tarr, now 51, 15 years to serve for manslaughter, with an additional five years on probation for using a gun to commit a felony.