BELFAST, Maine — A Brooks man who is serving a 35-year sentence for killing his wife in June 2010 after she nagged him about his purchase of a muffler for his truck, according to police reports, has asked the state to vacate his guilty plea to the charge of murder.
Michael Littlefield, 51, is waiting to hear Justice Robert Murray’s decision from a post-conviction review hearing held on June 17 at Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast.
He is serving his sentence at Maine State Prison in Warren, but wrote in a petition to the court last year that his guilty plea to intentional or knowing murder of his wife, 49-year-old Debbie Littlefield, is not valid.
Littlefield wrote that his counsel, Rick Hartley of Bangor, had given him “ineffective assistance,” in violation of the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“Mr. Littlefield was recommended by his counsel to plead guilty to intentional or knowing murder when Mr. Littlefield was very intoxicated at the time an argument ensued between he and his wife that resulted in her death,” Littlefield wrote in the petition. “Mr. Littlefield’s counsel should have know that for the past 100 years, the Maine Supreme Court has ruled that self-induced alcohol was a defense to intentional or knowing conduct.”
He said he believed the charge ought to have been reduced to reckless or criminally negligent manslaughter, which carries a lesser penalty, or at most, intentional or knowing manslaughter because of his drunken state and his “extreme anger” over the couple’s argument.
But Leane Zainea, assistant attorney general, wrote that the court should dismiss Littlefield’s quest for post-conviction review for “lack of specificity,” according to court documents filed this February. In her response, she denied his allegations that he was denied due process and that his counsel was ineffective.
Littlefield’s new court-appointed attorney, William Pagnano, requested in February that the court vacate the guilty plea and release him from prison.
Littlefield, who faced up to life in prison, was sentenced in October 2011 to 35 years for the murder charge after he reached a plea agreement with state prosecutors and changed his plea to guilty. He told the court during his sentencing hearing that he had no memory of shooting his wife of 30 years.
“I know the kids have lost their mother. I’ve lost my wife,” he said. “[It’s] something we’ll suffer for the rest of our lives.”
Zainea said during the same hearing that the Littlefields did not have a history of domestic violence and that he shot his wife from behind while she was standing at the kitchen sink. His first act after killing her was to go to a convenience store and purchase a 12-pack of beer, she said while telling the court about the evidence the state would have given at a criminal trial.
After buying the beer, Littlefield went home and called his son to say that he had “dealt with the bitch for the last 30 years” and was headed to camp to kill himself.
His son, Zachary Littlefield, immediately began searching for his parents. He found his father in the locked basement of the couple’s home, and then found his mother dead in the kitchen.
When his son called for help, Littlefield drove to his sister’s house to confess to killing his wife, Zainea told the court, and also threatened to kill himself with the rifle he still carried. He then went to a friend’s home, where he said he had killed Debbie Littlefield because she had been “ragging his ass since he bought the muffler,” Zainea said.
When police eventually caught up with Littlefield and brought him to jail, he said “Sayonara, bitch,” as the police car passed by the couple’s home, according to Zainea.
Hartley said during the sentencing hearing that many of his client’s shocking statements can be attributed to his heavy intoxication. A mental health evaluator found that Littlefield was depressed, despondent and dependent on alcohol, among other problems, his defense attorney said.
Hartley said after the 2011 hearing that the sentence was fair.
“It’s an extraordinarily difficult situation,” he said then.