A McKinleyville man was sitting in the proverbial executioner’s chair last week when the power went out.
Timothy Floyd Littlefield was facing eight life sentences in state prison without the possibility of parole stemming from convictions on 11 child molestation charges when he stood before Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John Feeney last week at a sentencing hearing. Instead of sentencing Littlefield to serve 188 years to life, as he said was his intent, Feeney declared a mistrial in the case, finding juror misconduct in the months-long trial that wrapped in September.
“In all my years as a laywer, I have never seen anything like this,” Littlefield’s attorney, Russell Clanton said. “It was a great day for justice.”
It's the second time Littlefield’s case had ended in a mistrial, after jurors deadlocked at 11-1 in favor of convicting him on all counts in 2012. This time, jurors deliberated for just three hours, returning guilty verdicts on all 11 charges.
Police arrested Littlefield in February 2009 on allegations of repeatedly molesting Jane Doe, who was an 8-year-old family member of his at the time of the offenses. Prosecutors argued during both trials that Littlefield kept the girl in isolation and threatened her to keep quiet as he molested her in secret for more than a year. Clanton argued at the trials that Jane Doe, her mother and another witness concocted the allegations to get back at Littlefield for abusing his wife.
Littlefield appeared crushed at the jury verdict in September, when he collapsed onto counsel table, sobbing, as the court clerk rattled off the guilty verdicts to all counts. In the wake of the conviction, Clanton has worked extensively to try to get the verdicts vacated, filing a number of motions, including one alleging that advocacy groups were texting witnesses in the case from the courtroom as the trial was proceeding. Feeney denied the motions until the topic of juror misconduct came up last week.
Clanton said he and a defense investigator have been feverishly working the case in recent months looking to get Littlefield — who he maintains is innocent — a chance at another trial. “When you have that kind of conviction, it has to be Sherman’s march to the sea,” he said. “You can’t leave anything. We looked at every possible issue we could possibly look at, and interviewed as many jurors as we could possibly talk to.”
One of those jurors, Clanton said, told his investigator that he simply felt the defense didn’t prove Littlefield was not guilty during the trial. “I almost fell out of my chair,” Clanton said. Knowing the criminal justice system places the burden of proof on the prosecution in all cases, and that he, Feeney and the prosecutor, District Attorney Paul Gallegos, had all gone to lengths to explain that to the jurors, Clanton said he then had the juror sign a sworn declaration saying he felt the defense didn’t prove its case.
Gallegos said the juror, when called to the stand at the sentencing hearing, told the court that he knew it was, in fact, the prosecution who had the burden of proving its case. But the declaration was ultimately enough for Feeney to declare a mistrial, saying he couldn’t send a man to prison for life with this potential juror misconduct hanging over the case, according to Clanton.
Gallegos said he will, “of course,” be retrying the case and Feeney set a new trial date for June 30. (Unconfirmed rumors that the case was headed for a retrial were first reported on John Chiv's blog Friday). Littlefield’s bail has been set at $500,000. He was still in custody as of Monday morning, according to jail staff, but Clanton said he expects his client to post bail.
The alleged victim in the case is now a teenager, and Gallegos said he feels terrible that she will be put through another trial and asked to testify again. She’s been dealing with Littlefield’s criminal case now, Gallegos said, for five years.