A child is dead.
A family and a community grieve.
A mother and her boyfriend are charged with second-degree murder.
Those are the facts. But there are more questions than answers. Like, how could this have happened? And where did the system break down?
That’s what Morgan County Sheriff Jim Petty wants to know.
Three-year-old Blake Litton died early last Thursday morning of multiple injuries he suffered when beaten by his mother’s boyfriend.
Without pointing fingers or assigning blame, Petty is determined to do everything within his power to see that what happened to Blake Litton doesn’t happen again.
“In the 10 years that I’ve been sheriff, we’ve never had a child fatality like this,” Petty said at a press conference last Friday at the Morgan County Detention Center. “I don’t have a particular red flag showing that someone or some agency did something wrong. It’s a general concern. This is something that none of us likes, and I want to be sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Which is why Petty and Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, are calling for a review of all the agencies involved and how the system failed.
“I, too, am concerned that there is a problem,” Schad said, who knows the family involved personally. “One child fatality is too many.”
“I told Rep. Schad I’m not headhunting for any particular person to blame and point fingers at,” the Morgan County sheriff said. “I’m just frustrated that something like this happened on our watch. It shouldn’t happen.”
There will be a child death review, which is standard procedure, Petty said.
“We do them every time there is a child fatality,” the Morgan County sheriff said. “Everything, from the prosecutor to the judge to the sheriff’s office to family, relatives, DFS (Division of Family Services), juvenile authorities. Everyone has some part, and if we don’t do our part, things can get worse.”
According to the probable cause statement, Blake Litton died from multiple injuries, including a lacerated liver and a ruptured blood vessel in his brain. Bruises and lacerations were evident on his head, neck, torso, buttocks, legs and arms.
Results of an autopsy report should be finalized in four or five weeks.
Thomas Joseph Presley, who is charged with second-degree murder in the beating death of Blake Litton, said during an interview with an officer with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, “He struck the child more times than he could remember.”
The assault reportedly occurred “somewhere around 3 in the morning,” Sheriff Petty said.
Presley reportedly “became enraged at the child and began beating the child” because the boy had soiled his pants. “I really beat him bad this time,” Presley said, according to the probable cause statement.
Page 2 of 3 - “That’s what we believe (that the beating injuries caused Blake’s death), but the medical (autopsy) will tell us the cause of death,” Petty said. “That is a false rumor (that Presley drove over the child as part of a fake accident story). We don’t believe that he (the child) was run over.”
Initially, Presley had concocted a story that Blake had been struck by a hit-and-run driver.
Investigators doubted his story.
“We treated this as a homicide from the beginning,” Sheriff Petty said. “The officers at the scene, in talking with the driver, found some inconsistencies with what he had told them. Also, knowing the subject and some of his background, they determined that there needed to be further investigation. They were doubtful that there was a car accident.
“With the experience of the officers, their background, and knowing the family, this was determined to be a homicide, not an accident,” Petty said. “The accident was staged, we know that.”
The sheriff suggested there had been a history of abuse.
“I don’t have personal knowledge,” Petty said, “but I understand there had been some calls (to the child abuse hotline) in the past,” Petty said. “That is something we’re looking into (the history of prior calls involving child abuse) to see whether there was a failure in the system.”
Presley was charged Friday morning and bond was set at $100,000.
“I would say there is the possibility of some other charges (against Presley),” Petty said
Later that day, his girlfriend, Jamie Ann Litton, was charged with second-degree murder and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Her bond was also set at $100,000. Both Presley and Litton are in custody at the Morgan County Detention Center.
“We believe that she knew that the boy was severely injured and failed to act properly,” Petty said.
Presley said during his interview he sent a text message to Jamie Litton, who was at work at the time, saying he had “lost it.”
“We are attempting to recover the text messages (between Presley and Jamie Litton),” Petty said.
In the probably cause statement, Presley said, “He lost control of his actions and blacked out as he beat the child.” Afterward, Presley said, “He placed the child in bed after the beating and felt the child was going to be fine.”
About 30 minutes later, Presley said, “He heard a loud noise in the kitchen … and found the child on the floor, unresponsive.”
Presley then drove the children to Golden Age Care Center in Stover, where Jamie Litton worked.
Litton, during her interview, said Presley told her Blake “needed to go to the emergency room, but Presley could not take him because he would go to prison for the rest of his life.”
Page 3 of 3 - Litton said she told Presley to take Blake to the emergency room. She said she asked a supervisor if she could leave work, “because of an issue” with her son, but the supervisor said no.
“I don’t know (how much a role Jamie Litton had in fabricating the accident story),” Petty said. “But we believe she did know that this was going to happen … the fake accident.”
When Jamie Litton clocked out from work, about 5:15 a.m., shortly after Presley’s 911 call, she went to the accident scene on Highway 135.
“While there she spoke with law enforcement officers investigating the accident,” according to the probable cause statement. “She did not tell anyone about the true nature of (Blake’s) injuries.”
Blake’s younger sister, who recently turned 3, was taken into custody. She also showed evidence of physical abuse. According to the probable cause statement, bruising was visible on her head, torso, legs, buttocks and arms and her left wrist was broken.
A nurse examiner reported the girls’ injuries are “anywhere from one to two weeks.”
After being taken into custody, the girl was placed with her grandparents, Jamie Litton’s parents.
“I personally know the grandparents (where the 3-year-old girl is staying), and I don’t have a problem with them at all,” Petty said. “They’re very good people.”
During last Friday’s 30-minute press conference, Petty said he was saddened by the death of Blake Litton and frustrated by a system that failed to protect him.
“We are glad that we could resolve this and we could have some type of justice for the boy,” Petty said. “But it’s been frustrating. We feel like if we dropped the ball for whatever reason or another agency did, then we’re saddened it became a tragedy, as it is.
“I want to see that our feet are held to the fire and that every other agency also is,” Petty said. “We absolutely don’t want (something like this) to happen.”