Almost 16 months after Thomas J. Presley was sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, and an additional life sentence for murder in the first degree and abuse of a child resulting in death, a three-judge panel of the Western District Court of Appeals upheld the jury verdicts and the court sentences, according to a press release from the Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
“I’m extremely pleased with the appellate court’s decision. After months of preparation for a murder trial it is nice to see that the hard work paid off and there were no mistakes made by the State in the presentation of the case,” commented Morgan County Prosecutor Dustin G. Dunklee.
No further information on the appeal is available at this time.
In January 2015, the 25-year-old Presley was convicted of murder in the first degree and abuse of a child resulting in death by a Cass County jury for the Feb. 16, 2012, beating death in Stover of three-year-old Blake Litton.
The jury was given the option of the lesser included offenses of murder in the 2nd degree and involuntary manslaughter; however, the jury elected to convict Thomas Presley of 1st degree murder as requested by the State.
A Cass County jury heard the case on a change of venue requested by the defense.
Murder in the first degree carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Abuse of a child resulting in death is a Class A Felony which carries a range of punishment of 10 to 30 years in the Department of Correction or Life with the possibility of parole. Although the first degree murder carries a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, a formal sentencing hearing for the first degree murder and abuse of a child was required to address the range of punishment for the child abuse charge. A sentencing hearing was held on March 27, 2015, at the Morgan County Justice Center.
Presley severely beat Blake Litton then took the child to a nursing home near Stover to visit the child’s mother, Jamie Litton, who was working at the time. Litton left Blake and his younger sister Faith in Presley’s care. Presley then took Blake to the side of Highway 135, where he telephoned 911 to report a hit-and-run motor vehicle accident involving Blake in an attempt to cover up the beating.
The murder of Blake Litton garnered national attention when television host Nancy Grace asked that the charges, which were originally set at second degree murder, be upgraded. Blake’s death shed a spotlight on child abuse in the lake area and how to prevent/report it.
Blake’s mother, Jamie Litton, also faces charges of first degree murder and abuse of a child result in death. Her case has yet to be adjudicated. A jury trial is scheduled to start Sept. 26, 2016 in Pulaski County Circuit Court on a change of venue.
This case was prosecuted by Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney Dustin G. Dunklee, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Douglas Kinde, Attorney Kevin Zoellner of the Missouri Attorney General’s Office and the efforts of Mr. Dunklee’s staff members.
“Without the efforts of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol – Division of Drug & Crime Control, the Stover Police Department and all of the professional investigators involved, this outcome wouldn’t have been possible,” Dunklee said.