A Pulaski County man charged with murder for allegedly intentionally causing a fatal accident will see his case go before the grand jury.
Justin I. Litton, 36, of Somerset, appeared Wednesday before Pulaski District Judge Scott Lawless in a preliminary hearing to determine whether enough evidence exists to warrant a review by a grand jury for possible indictment.
“I don’t believe the Commonwealth met their burden to prove (Litton) intentionally tried to take the life of (Levi Stephens),” stated Kenton Lanham, who represented Litton, during closing arguments.
Litton is charged with murder in connection with a March 16 car crash that left Stephens, 33, of Somerset, dead.
Litton was charged with murder Monday, March 18, as he was released from the University of Kentucky Medical Center for treatment of injuries sustained in the two-vehicle accident, which happened near the intersection of West Ky. 80 and the Ky. 914 southwestern bypass.
Litton, who had to use crutches to get around, had to be helped to his seat Wednesday by court bailiffs. He sat quietly through the hearing Wednesday, speaking only occasionally to Lanham.
During the hearing, Pulaski County Attorney Martin Hatfield called Somerset Police Department Detective Larry Patterson to the stand, who has been investigating the car crash.
Patterson repeated what SPD has reported so far. The incident began at around 10 p.m. Saturday, March 16 when a Pulaski County Sheriff’s Deputy noticed a black 1998 Nissan car parked in the lot of a closed business on Ky. 80 without its headlights on.
Patterson on Wednesday identified the deputy as Steve Molen. Patterson said Molen shined a spotlight on Litton’s car as he passed, and attempted to turn around to investigate. That’s when Litton apparently left the parking lot and headed eastbound on West Ky. 80.
Molen turned his emergency lights on and was attempting to make a traffic stop when the accident happened. Litton’s vehicle reportedly crossed the centerline just west of the intersection of West Ky. 80 and WTLO Road and struck head-on a westbound white 2005 Suzuki driven by Stephens.
Patterson said a dashboard camera in Molen’s vehicle shows Stephens’ approaching headlights — and it shows he attempted to avoid the collision.
“The headlights were (pointed) well off the roadway,” said Patterson.
The impact trapped both drivers in their vehicles, according to SPD, and sent Stephens' vehicle off the road, where it came to rest on the north side of the highway.
Litton was airlifted to the UK Medical Center. Stephens was transported by ambulance to the Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead by the Pulaski County Coroner's Office.
Patterson estimated that only 17 seconds passed between Molen attempting to turn around and the crash. He said Molen and Litton traveled eastbound on West Ky. 80 for around 10 to 12 seconds, and he said the dashboard camera shows that Litton entered into the westbound lane and remained there for around five seconds before the crash.
Patterson testified Litton’s family had called Pulaski County 911 and reported that Litton left a home on Limestone Street in Somerset less than an hour before the accident. Litton’s family reported that he’d left intoxicated, and he indicated he would intentionally drive head-on into a tractor trailer in an attempt to take his own life.
“So she (Litton’s mother) was concerned about the safety of her son,” said Hatfield.
Patterson confirmed that, and he said the 911 call was logged at 9:24 p.m. An SPD officer responded at 9:48 p.m. and a bulletin was sent out informing authorities about the incident. Patterson said officers are often given information on an individual and the vehicle they may be driving if its suspected they may be driving intoxicated or they may try to harm another person.
The officer left the home at 9:56 p.m., and within minutes, the crash on West Ky. 80 occurred, according to Patterson.
Patterson said he drove Litton to Somerset from the Fayette County Detention Center after his initial arrest.
He said Litton was read his Miranda Rights, and afterward the defendant was told that Stephens had passed away from his injuries. Patterson said Litton told him he couldn’t remember much of what happened leading up to the accident, but he said his steering column in his car malfunctioned and caused him to swerve into the other lane on West Ky. 80, leading to the crash.
When asked about Litton’s disposition by Lanham Patterson said he could tell Litton was in considerable pain from his injuries. He also said Litton was cooperative, but he said he couldn’t tell whether Litton expressed any remorse for what he’d done.
Hatfield asked Patterson whether he believes Litton’s actions wantonly created indifference to human life.
“Yes, I do,” Patterson answered.
Lawless stated that enough evidence existed to support the murder case moving forward before the grand jury. Litton’s bond remains at $250,000, and a review hearing has been set for May 22.