A 63-year-old Algiers pastor pleaded guilty to aggravated battery Tuesday for firing on a vehicle and shooting a passenger in the head after he spotted a copper thief raiding an air-conditioning unit at his Vallette Street church.
Willie Littleton is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 11. Criminal District Court Judge Robin Pittman could sentence him to as long as 15 years behind bars. However, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has no objection to letting Littleton serve probation for the Aug. 27, 2014, shooting, court records show.
Cannizzaro’s office charged Littleton in May with attempted manslaughter in a bill of information. Prosecutors accused the pastor of Greater Morning Star Baptist Church of firing at Rodney Mitchell and Joseph Cross as they tried to flee in a truck. Mitchell was shot in the head.
Littleton found the men trying to steal copper from an air-conditioning unit between the church and a neighboring snowball stand, police said at the time.
Littleton initially held Mitchell and Cross at gunpoint, but they were able to drive off in a pickup truck, at which point the pastor opened fire, police said. The pair were found about a mile away from the church at L.B. Landry Avenue and Diana Street, while Littleton flagged down officers at Newton Street and Behrman Avenue.
An NOPD officer from 1974 to 1983, Littleton also co-hosted a talk show weekday mornings on WBOK-AM.
Louisiana law says a person may use deadly force to prevent a “forcible offense,” including the forcible taking of property in the person’s “lawful possession.” But the statute also says that for the act to be deemed justified, the use of force “must be reasonable and apparently necessary” to stop the would-be robber.
Police and prosecutors determined that Littleton’s actions failed to meet that standard.
Cannizzaro’s office charged both Mitchell and Joseph Cross with simple criminal damage and attempted theft for the attempt to pilfer the copper. Cross pleaded guilty as charged in June and received a 16-month sentence.
Mitchell, who awaits a trial date next week, faces a lifetime of potential medical problems from his injury, said his attorney, David Belfield.
He said Littleton’s plea deal leaves Mitchell in the lurch. With the pastor admitting guilt, it’s unlikely that Mitchell can receive damages from the church’s insurer, and Belfield said that nothing in Littleton’s plea agreement calls for him to pay restitution.
“He gets to walk, and my client gets to walk around with two bullets in his head,” Belfield said. “He’s very upset. There’s nothing to address the damages he’s received.”
Belfield said Mitchell never got out of the car and was unaware of any copper thievery as he sat waiting for Cross outside the church.
Mitchell’s criminal history includes a guilty plea in August 2008 to a charge of aggravated battery in Jefferson Parish, where he was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He has no intention of pleading guilty in this case, Belfield said.
Littleton remains out on bond pending his sentencing.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.