Part 1 in a 6 part series on the aftermath of the Blake Litton murder
When Jamie Litton and her boyfriend, T.J. Presley, and her two children moved out of her parents' house in Stover on Jan. 2, Jim Miller, Jamie's father, had a bad feeling.
His premonition proved correct.
That was the last time Jim Miller saw his only grandson alive.
Blake Litton died Feb. 16, 11 days shy of his fourth birthday. His mother's boyfriend was charged with second-degree murder in the beating death of three-year-old Blake.
"He was papa's little man," Jim Miller said.
Blake's younger sister, Faith, who turned three in January, also showed signs of physical abuse.
Not only is Blake Litton's death a tragedy, Jim Miller believes it was preventable.
"It shouldn't have happened," Jim Miller said.
The day Jamie Litton and her children left her parents' house, Jim Miller called Missouri Division of Family Services.
"I explained to DFS my fears," Jim Miller said. "I said the kids don't want to be around him (Presley). They told me themselves."
When Jamie Litton, her boyfriend and Blake and Faith Litton were living in the basement of Jim and LaVera Miller's house, Jim Miller said he could tell his grandchildren were not comfortable being around Presley.
"Blake and Faith did not want to be around him," Jim Miller said. "Every time they would get a chance they would come upstairs and climb onto papa's lap. Blake would say 'papa I want to stay with you. I don't want to go back downstairs.' I never saw evidence of abuse, but when a kid makes a statement like that to you …"
John Wagner, a friend of the Miller family and pastor of First Christian Church in Versailles where the Millers are members, said, "When kids don't want to be around somebody, that says something."
Jan. 2, the day Jamie Litton and her children left her parents' house, Jim Miller voiced his concerns to his daughter.
"She came and got the two kids and carried them out of the house and Blake and Faith cried," Jim Miller said. "That was the last time I saw Blake.
"The day they left here, I told Jamie I was going to call DFS," Jim Miller said. "I didn't trust him. And I told her I was going to call the sheriff's office, and I did. They said they sent an officer down there. But I don't know how much faith to put into that."
"I told DFS I was scared to death because they (Blake and Faith Litton) are too little to take care of themselves," Jim Miller said. "DFS told me they had to have a report. I said, 'Lady, what do you think I'm doing? I'm reporting something is going to happen.' I said I don't trust him (Presley) at all. After I hung up with DFS, I called the sheriff's office and talked to (Sheriff) Jim Petty himself. Jim knew him (Presley). The prosecutor knew him."
Jamie Litton's ex-husband, Robbin Litton, Blake and Faith's father, shared Jim Miller's concern.
"Robbin was absolutely scared to death and he took it upon himself to call DFS, and so did Robbin's parents," Jim Miller said.
Jim Miller was at a doctor appointment in Versailles on the morning of Feb. 16 when he received a call on his cell phone.
"My cousin, who is an RN at the nursing home (Golden Age Care Center in Stover, where Jamie Litton worked), called me and said I had to get home," Jim Miller said. "I asked what's the matter and she wouldn't tell me. She said something has happened."
Initially, the Millers were told Blake had been struck by a car on Highway 135. But that didn't sound plausible, Jim Miller said.
"I was suspicious," Jim Miller said. "There would be absolutely no reason for him (Blake Litton) to be on the highway.
"My cousin said 'I don't understand how that could have happened.' She said, 'You don't think that's what happened do you?' I said I think the son of a bitch beat him to death, that's what I think," Jim Miller said.
The Millers, along with their pastor, John Wagner, were on their way to the hospital in Sedalia — where Blake Litton had been taken by ambulance — when they received a phone call telling them they wouldn't be able to see their grandson.
Instead, the Millers brought their granddaughter home with them. That's when they began to learn more about what really happened.
"She told me Blake had a boo-boo," Jim Miller said. "Faith, bless her heart, she's a very sharp child. It was during that time that Faith began to tell a little bit more of what happened during that night. It was over a course of three or four days before it came out, but Faith had said enough to make us wonder. She amazed investigators with how much she remembered."
Investigators doubted Presley's initial story about the hit-and-run. It turns out the original story Presley told to investigators was a fabrication.
"I knew it wasn't right," Jim Miller said.
John Wagner agreed.
"We didn't believe (the hit-and-run story) from the first moment. There was no way it happened," Wagner said. "My thought was T.J. killed him (Blake)."
Jamie Litton was at work at Golden Age Care Center the night of Feb. 15, while Presley stayed with her kids.
"T.J. took the kids to Ivy Bend. This is supposedly where he bought some meth down there," Jim Miller said.
There is security video of Presley and the kids at the Walmart in Versailles that was taken early on the morning of Feb. 16.
"He was getting some food to take to Jamie," said Jim Miller, who has not seen the video, but believes Blake may have been severely injured when the children were with Presley at Walmart.
During an interview with investigators, Presley said he "became enraged at the child (Blake Litton) and began beating the child" because the boy had soiled his pants.
"I really beat him bad this time," Presley said, according to the probable cause statement.
Blake Litton reportedly died from multiple injuries, including a lacerated liver and a ruptured blood vessel in his brain. Bruises and lacerations were evident on his head, neck, torso, buttocks, legs and arms.
"I don't know how you could do something like that. I just don't understand how a little boy who was so full of …," Jim Miller said, his voice trailing off.
Presley told investigators he sent Jamie Litton a text message when she was at work saying he had "lost it."
Presley drove the children to the nursing home in Stover, where Jamie Litton was working. She told investigators Presley told her Blake "needed to go to the emergency room, but Presley could not take him because he would go to prison for the rest of his life."
Jamie Litton, like Presley, has been charged with second-degree murder, as well as endangering the welfare of a child.
Prosecutors filed charges against Jamie Litton because of "what she knew was going on and failed to act."
"The second-degree murder charge I have a problem with," Jim Miller said about his daughter's case. "Jamie was guilty of the child endangerment. I don't have a problem with that at all. A lot of things transpired that night. We don't know what was said, if that's where the second-degree murder charge came from, based on that. Then that's knowledge we don't have."
Presley was also charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, like Jamie Litton. He was also charged with abusing a child resulting in death. Both Presley and Jamie Litton have pleaded not guilty.
The publicity from the Blake Litton case has received national attention. The Morgan County prosecutor's office was flooded with phone calls after TV personality Nancy Grace issued a call for action on her show. In a message posted on her website, Grace said, "These people should be charged with first-degree capital murder and face the death penalty."
The county prosecutor is under a court-issued gag order and can't talk publicly about the case.