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Trial of Dunedin man accused of killing roommate begins

LARGO — In 2004, Neils C. Larsen III was accused of beating his roommate with a frying pan and stabbing him over an argument about the proper movement of rooks in chess.

He later pleaded no contest to a lesser charge and received probation.

On Tuesday, Larsen went on trial over the attack of another roommate in 2008.

This time, the charge is second-degree murder.

Prosecutors said in court that Larsen killed his roommate, 61-year-old Barbara Hebert, in September 2008, then left her body to decompose on the kitchen floor of the home they shared at 1222 Orange Ave. in Dunedin.

Hebert suffered 13 fractured ribs and a broken sternum and died of blunt force trauma, said Assistant State Attorney Ryan Lossius.

Larsen, now 57, never reported Hebert's death to authorities.

She was discovered after one of Larsen's friends, who was concerned about his welfare, asked Pinellas deputies to check on him on Sept. 12, 2008. When deputies with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office arrived, Larsen refused to come out of the home, beginning an 8-hour standoff that ended after a SWAT team deployed a gas into the home to flush him out.

It's unclear exactly when Hebert died, but her decomposing body was found on the floor, covered by five blankets. Her hands, feet and mouth were bound by duct tape, deputies and prosecutors said.

Larsen's public defenders said he acted in self-defense.

Public defender Greg Williams said the two were arguing because Larsen wanted her to move out of the house.

Larsen pushed or pulled Hebert onto the floor after she hit him with her cane and she fell into the stove or cabinets, Williams said.

"Barbara Hebert wasn't murdered. She died because of broken ribs she sustained when she fell," he said. "His actions were justifiable and excusable."

But a neighbor said Hebert, whom she last saw about a week before her death, had been on crutches for some time.

Tammy Koross, who worked with Hebert at a telemarketing company, scoffed at the notion that Hebert was the aggressor.

At the time of his arrest, Larsen weighed 400 pounds.

Hebert, on the other hand, was "a tiny thing, tall but very thin," Koross said.

She was on crutches recovering from a broken foot and had trouble getting around, Koross said.

Koross said that Hebert told her she was afraid of Larsen, because she had awoken to find him standing over her and he had previously threatened her.

"He told her he would kill her and get away with it, that nobody would ever find her body," she said. "And (Hebert) told me that."

Hebert was "quiet and friendly" and a huge animal lover who had once been a veterinary technician, said Koross, 43.

Koross said Hebert was born in Milwaukee and had no immediate family.

Despite that, she was memorialized twice. Once by Koross and other co-workers, and again by caring neighbors.

Larsen has a criminal record in Florida dating back to 1974, including charges of DUI, drug possession and battery on a police officer. Pinellas court records show he was sentenced to five months in jail in 2003 after a conviction on charges including drug possession and leaving the scene of a crash involving property damage.

His trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday.

Hebert had only lived with Larsen for two months.

She had already made plans to move out of Larsen's home before she died, Koross said.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Trial of Dunedin man accused of killing roommate begins 04/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 7:45pm]
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