When Thomas Presley called authorities on Feb. 16, 2012, he said his girlfriend’s 3-year-old son had just been struck by a hit-and-run driver on a state highway in Morgan County, Mo.
The child, Blake Litton, was having difficulty breathing and had bruises up and down his body. He died a short time later at a Sedalia hospital.
But his clothes weren’t torn, and Missouri Highway Patrol troopers found no skid marks, tire impressions, blood or debris when they scoured the site on Missouri 135.
Wednesday evening, a jury in Cass County found Presley, 24, guilty of first-degree murder and child abuse. The trial was moved to Harrisonville on a change of venue.
According to testimony, Presley told Morgan County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Chinn that he had stopped along the highway because he and Blake needed to urinate.
Presley told police that before he was finished, the boy ran into the roadway and was struck by a white car that failed to stop.
The only thing police found near the highway was Blake’s left shoe — in nearly new condition — 300 feet north of the alleged crash site.
“We were on our hands and knees looking for blood or any evidence,” Trooper Ashley Klempke testified.
Text messages exchanged between Presley and Blake’s mother, Jamie Litton, in the hours before Blake’s death were recovered from their cellphones. The texts suggested that Presley had severely beaten Blake.
An autopsy revealed that Blake had suffered brain injuries but that bleeding from a torn liver was the main cause of death.
Presley sat with his head low while prosecutors and the defense made their closing arguments.
“He chose to give him a beatdown,” a prosecutor argued. “After choosing to inflict each of those blows, his choice was to let that poor boy die.”
Sentencing is scheduled for March 27 in Morgan County.
Litton, also charged with first-degree murder, is scheduled for trial Aug. 10 in Laclede County.
To reach Bethany Bashioum, a reporter for The Cass County Democrat Missourian, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.