BELLEFONTAINE (MCT) -- There is no murder that isn't tragic, no senseless killing that doesn't break at least one heart.
But in this case, three lives were inexplicably lost. A devoted mother was taken from her two young boys; an elderly couple lost their lives of service and love.
This case reduced even veteran lawyers to tears yesterday in Logan County Common Pleas Court, and sobs filled the two rooms packed with people. They all watched and listened as Sammy Littleton II admitted that he killed Tiffany Brown and Dick and Gladis Russell in February. Littleton, in a deal that spared him a possible death sentence, pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated murder and three counts of gross abuse of a corpse.
Judge Mark S. O'Connor immediately sentenced him to life in prison. Littleton, of Bellefontaine, is 37 years old and will never be eligible for parole. "All three victims were innocent, and neither they nor their families deserved the horror that was inflicted on them by Sam Littleton," said Eric Stewart, the chief assistant Logan County prosecutor who handled the case.
Stewart's voice cracked with emotion, and he held his statement with two hands just to keep it steady enough to read.
"He should have to relive the evil he has committed every day of his life. He will die broken and alone in a prison cell."
Littleton admitted that on Feb. 11 he stabbed Brown to death and slashed her throat. He hid her body behind a pile of scrap construction wood in the basement of the home he shared with Brown's mother, Deb Neeley, his longtime girlfriend.
Brown would have turned 27 today.
On Feb. 16, as suspicion mounted against him in Brown's death, Littleton went to the rural Logan County home of Dick and Gladis Russell, an elderly couple who had sold him his Bellefontaine home in 2009.
Authorities speculate that he killed them for their car; he wanted to flee Ohio.
Littleton strangled Gladis in the garage of the Russell farm, then choked and stabbed her husband. He put their bodies in the trunk of their Mercury sedan and drove south.
The body of Mr. Russell was found on Feb. 26 along a Tennessee road, and Mrs. Russell's body was found in a Georgia cotton field on March 9.
Littleton was arrested in the woods behind a West Virginia Walmart on Feb. 23.
Though he was caught, questions about his crimes remain.
Littleton did not apologize in court and made no statement, except to answer a few of the judge's basic questions.
Neither did he offer much useful information in more than six hours of interrogation by detectives. He told authorities he didn't remember everything, and he didn't know why he did what he had done.
Some things, however, authorities do know.
On Feb. 15, four days after Brown disappeared and one day before her body was discovered, investigators received Brown's phone records and discovered a series of text messages between her and Littleton on Feb. 11, the afternoon she disappeared.
Littleton asked Brown to come over to talk about a surprise Valentine's Day present for her mom. He told her to come alone and to not tell anyone.
At 4:37 p.m., after she'd finished with her beauty-school classes and a couple of errands, Brown returned Littleton's text message: "Ok Ill be there n 10."
She was never heard from again.
Though investigators don't know why Littleton lured her, they do know why he didn't. There was no evidence of a sexual assault, and no reason to believe the two had ever had any kind of a personal relationship, Stewart said.
Brown's mother believes that Littleton, who had a history of drug use though no major criminal convictions, thought Brown had her federal income-tax refund with her, and he wanted her money.
She did not have it, though; she'd given it to her mom for safekeeping.
Whatever Littleton's motive, Stewart said that Brown was nothing but innocent.
Stewart had trouble staying composed as he described watching detectives remove, one by one, the scrap boards and junk that hid Brown's body.
"I felt rage and anger," he said. "I thought, 'How can anyone do this to a human being?'"
The Russells' story was no easier to take.
"He didn't have to kill them," Stewart said. "If it was just the car he wanted, why not just tie them up?"
Randall Porter, one of Littleton's two court-appointed attorneys, told the families that in 26 years of his practice, he had never felt quite like this.
Porter choked up as he said that he recently lost his own father, but he added that he had the chance to say goodbye, something these families were not afforded.
"I wish there was something we could do to bring your loved ones back," Porter said. "But there just isn't. I want to apologize."
Then it was time for Brown's father to speak.
Larry Brown said his daughter was devoted to making a better life for her boys, Gavyn and Gage.
He swiped at his own tears as he described how he texted his children every morning at 5:30 to tell them to have a good day. Tiffany, he said, was the only one to always text him back because she was already up, working hard and getting ready for the day.
"Sam Littleton took a part of our lives and our hearts that we will never get back," he said. "But he can never take away our treasured memories."
Catheryn Whitmore, Mrs. Russell's niece, spoke directly to Littleton: "I sent you the obituaries of Dick and Gladis Russell. I hope you read them so you know what beautiful and wonderful people they were."
Long after the hearing was over, she still wept.
By Holly Zachariah - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
Copyright (c) 2011, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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