BELFAST, Maine — The man who told police he killed his wife because she had been nagging him about his purchase of a muffler was sentenced Friday to spend 35 years in prison for the crime.
After reaching a plea agreement with state prosecutors, Michael Littlefield, 49, of Brooks pleaded guilty to the charge of intentional or knowing murder in the death of 49-year-old Debbie Littlefield on June 25, 2010, at the couple’s home. He had faced up to life in prison.
Littlefield, who teared up during a brief apology to family members during his sentencing hearing Friday afternoon at Waldo County Superior Court, said he has no memory of shooting his wife of 30 years that afternoon.
“I know the kids have lost their mother. I’ve lost my wife,” he said in a very quiet voice. “[It’s] something we’ll suffer for the rest of our lives.”
The white-haired man with a handlebar mustache looked far older than his years and still was wearing a wedding ring.
“We’ve not only lost Debbie, our mother,” daughter Amanda Gillis of Pittsfield said during the hearing on behalf of the family. “We’ve also lost our father … We miss them both, every single day. We believe that this man who committed this act is not the Michael we’ve known for years.”
Justice Robert Murray discussed the challenges inherent in finding the correct sentence for this situation.
“I am struck with the difficulty that this case presents,” he said before handing down his decision. “[It] involves the defendant who is the father of the victim’s children. This is unquestionably a tragedy. There will never be an adequate explanation for the events that occurred in June 2010.”
Rick Hartley of Bangor, Littlefield’s attorney, said that his client’s mental state at the time of the shooting was a crucial component to finding an appropriate sentence. While mental health evaluations have shown that Littlefield is legally competent, more than one psychiatric professional agrees that he indeed has no memory of the shooting, Hartley said.
“The lack of memory is attributed … to the trauma of the incident,” he said.
According to Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, the Littlefields did not have a history of domestic violence during their 30-year marriage. She told the justice about the evidence the state would have given at a criminal trial if Littlefield had not decided to plead guilty.
According to Zainea, Littlefield had gotten permission to leave work at Robbins Lumber in Searsmont early that day in order to go on a planned camping trip with his wife. After work, Littlefield went to his son’s home, where he talked about purchasing a muffler. After he bought the muffler, he and his wife argued about the purchase, and sometime between 4:30 and 5 p.m. their neighbor heard a single gunshot fired at the home.
Although Littlefield later told police that after shooting his wife in the head with a .30-30 Winchester rifle he lay next to her on the kitchen floor and contemplated killing himself, Zainea said that the physical evidence disproved his statement.
She said that Littlefield shot his wife from behind while she was standing at the sink, and his first act after doing so was to go to a convenience store and purchase a 12-pack of beer.
“Immediately after killing his wife, he did not render aid. He did not call 911,” she said, adding that was one of the aggravating factors in regards to the sentence for the crime.
He then went back home, Zainea said, and called his son Zachary to say that he had “dealt with the bitch for the last 30 years” and was headed to camp to kill himself.
The son immediately headed to the home and then to camp but didn’t find his father, she said. He then went back to the house, which apparently was locked, and was able to force open the door to the basement where he “was confronted” by Michael Littlefield.
“The defendant, while holding a rifle and pointing it at Zachary, told him that he killed Debra and that he was ‘going to jail for life,’” Zainea told the court. “Zachary went upstairs where he found his mother dead in the kitchen. Following the discovery of his mother he ran back down to the basement, threw the rifle on the ground and then gave his father a hug.”
While Zachary went to call for help, Littlefield apparently drove to his sister’s house and again confessed to killing his wife. He also threatened to kill himself with the rifle he still carried, Zainea said. After that stop, he then went to a friend’s home, this time saying that he had shot Debbie Littlefield to death because she had been “ragging his [expletive] since he bought the muffler,” according to Zainea.
Police caught up with Littlefield at the friend’s house, she said. He reportedly refused to give them the rifle, ultimately causing the officers to “draw their weapons” until they succeeded in taking the gun away from Littlefield.
According to the detective who took Littlefield to the jail in Belfast, the defendant spontaneously said, “Sayonara, bitch,” as they passed by the couple’s home.
Hartley said his client was found by a mental health evaluator to have the “eight Ds” at the time of the shooting.
He was devoted to his family, dutiful, depressed, despondent, and dependent on alcohol, among other attributes, Hartley said.
After the murder, the shocking statements Littlefield made can be attributed to his “heavy intoxication,” according to the attorney.
“He made these statements after this astoundingly traumatic event. I would ask the court to consider them in that context,” Hartley said, describing his client as a person who is characterized by work and family.
“His relationship with his family is best illustrated by the fact that they are here, sitting behind Mr. Littlefield,” Hartley said.
His daughter described him as a loyal, hardworking and soft-hearted man who would do anything for anybody.
“We realize that nothing will bring our mother back,” she told the court as family members softly cried behind her.
After the hearing was over, a shackled Littlefield was taken away in police custody. His attorney said that the 16 months he already has spent in county jail will count toward his sentence.
“This was a fair sentence,” Hartley said after the hearing. “I think it’s an extraordinarily difficult situation.”