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Wednesday, June 29, 2016 10:14 pm

Man guilty in deadly beating with microwave

Journal Gazette

The answer to the Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Steve Godfrey's question was "no."

No, you cannot bludgeon someone to death with a microwave oven and get away with murder.

Godfrey asked the Allen Superior Court jury that question regarding 29-year-old Justin Littlejohn. It took the jury just over 20 minutes to decide, convicting Littlejohn in the December killing of 46-year-old Randy Dial, a man with mental health issues living in a local motel.

Prior to asking the jury that question, Godfrey held up the alleged murder weapon, a 15 1/2-pound hotel room microwave. The door fell all the way off sometime during the trial and he held that in one hand, the blood-smeared front facing the jury.

He asked the jury another question.

"Who wants me to drop this on your head," he said, letting it fall to the floor from a height about a couple of feet.

"That thing is heavy," he said. "That thing is an instrument of death."

While Littlejohn's attorney, Anthony Churchward, argued that while his client was responsible for Dial's death, he was not guilty of murder because he had not intended to kill him, nor had he foreseen that battery with a microwave was likely to be fatal.

But before closing arguments, the jury heard testimony from one of a handful of people inside room 2115 at the Economy Inn, 3340 W. Coliseum Blvd., on Dec. 28.

One of the few witnesses who cooperated with police and prosecutors throughout the investigation was 35-year-old Milissa Webb-Lippert.

She testified Wednesday about how Dial had been smoking Spice with the group of people inside his motel room, and the drug made him obnoxious.

Webb-Lippert said Littlejohn told him to sit down on the bed and shut up. Dial took issue, saying it was his room and he should be respected. Littlejohn responded by punching him in the face, knocking him out.

"He wouldn't shut up," Webb-Lippert said of Dial. "That's when Littlejohn walked over and unplugged the microwave."

The microwave was sitting atop a grimy refridgerator in the room. Dial had slid down between the bed and the air conditioning unit and Littlejohn brought the appliance down on his head, repeatedly.

"The door was just hanging there," Webb-Lippert said.

At some point, Littlejohn ditched the microwave for the heavy glass cooking plate inside, slamming that into Dial's face.

A few people tried to intervene, but a man with Littlejohn, identified only as "Trey," was armed with a pistol and, according to testimony, kept would-be saviors at bay.

Webb-Lippert said she was able to get him to stop, and told him she lost all respect for him. Before she left the motel room, Dial was staggering around, having gone into the bathroom to try to clean himself up.

Everyone left the room. 

Webb-Lippert said she went back about 90 minutes later to check on him, heard what she thought was snoring coming through the door. Another witness testified similarly on Tuesday.

It wasn't until the next day, nearly 20 hours later, that anyone got any help for Dial, who suffered a skull fracture and bleeding on the brain. By the time the manager got into the room and summoned 911, Dial could not be aroused. 

The "snoring" sound everyone testified to hearing was actually agonal respirations, a sign of severe head trauma, according to testimony.

Dial died at the hospital the next day, his death ruled the 30th homicide of 2015.

Deputy Prosecutor Tessa Helge, arguing the first round of closing statements that Littlejohn's intent was visible by his actions, said that he could have stopped after the first punch, but kept going, escalating until he went too far, something he admitted to police during an interview.

After the jury's verdict, Godfrey, who serves as the prosecutor's office's chief criminal counsel, said he was surprised by their speed in deliberations.

It took the jury nearly an hour to decide whether Littlejohn was guilty of being an habitual offender, with prior felony convictions for robbery and resisting law enforcement. 

Between the murder conviction and the habitual offender finding, Littlejohn faces more than 50 years in prison when he is sentenced in late July.

rgreen@jg.net