A 64-year-old Algiers pastor and local radio host will have to perform community service rather than do prison time for shooting a man twice in the head in an attempt to thwart a pair of copper thieves at his Vallette Street church.
Criminal District Court Judge Robin Pittman sentenced Pastor Willie Littleton on Thursday to a five-year suspended sentence and 2,400 hours of community service, encouraging him to mentor youths about the perils of gun violence.
Pittman heeded a probation report that recommended against prison time for Littleton, citing a lack of criminal history and the fact he said he had feared for his life when he began firing at two men who were stripping unsecured air conditioner units from Littleton’s church and an adjacent snowball stand.
“I think you are the perfect person to go out and mentor these people,” Pittman said. “I’m sure on that night you may have wished you had chosen a different path.”
Pittman described Littleton as an otherwise model citizen, while casting Rodney Mitchell, the man who suffered two gunshots to the head from Littleton’s semi-automatic pistol, as both victim and perpetrator.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office did not oppose probation for Littleton, who pleaded guilty in November to aggravated battery in connection with the shooting, which took place Aug. 27, 2014. Cannizzaro’s office had initially charged him with attempted manslaughter.
Prosecutors said Littleton, a former New Orleans Police Department officer and public school teacher who also co-hosted a morning talk show on WBOK-AM, fired at Mitchell and Joseph Cross as they fled in their truck from Greater Morning Star Baptist Church, where Littleton has served as pastor for 21 years.
Littleton yelled “Freeze!” at Cross, the copper thief, then opened fire as the pair drove off, according to the probation report.
Littleton then chased them in his car before he ran out of bullets and flagged down officers at Newton Street and Behrman Avenue. Mitchell and Cross were found about a mile away, at L.B. Landry Avenue and Diana Street.
Cannizzaro’s office charged both Mitchell and Cross with simple criminal damage and attempted theft for trying to pilfer the copper.
Cross pleaded guilty as charged in June and received a 16-month sentence. Mitchell pleaded no contest last month to criminal trespassing and attempted theft, receiving a 6-month deferred sentence.
Mitchell’s attorney, David Belfield, said his client was inside the truck drinking a beer when Littleton spotted him.
Mitchell faces a lifetime of potential medical problems from his injury, Belfield said.
“He doesn’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring. That bullet could move a centimeter, and he could be paralyzed,” Belfield said. “His life has been turned upside down.”
A prosecutor read a statement from Mitchell describing his ordeal since being shot in the head.
In the letter, Mitchell asked Pittman to sentence Littleton to the maximum prison term, which was 15 years.
“The pain I have to live with is excruciating and unbearable. My head hurts so bad it causes me to scream out in pain,” he wrote. “Sometimes my nose and ears bleed.”
Defense attorney W.J. Leblanc said Littleton already has lined up an arrangement with Landry-Walker High School to fulfill his community service requirement.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.