ELYRIA — A Parma man escaped the death penalty and received decades in prison Thursday by pleading guilty to the murder of a 60-year-old North Ridgeville man.
John Rowan, 37, unapologetically accepted his fate in a Lorain County courtroom, where Common Pleas Court Judge Chris Cook said the only credit Rowan should receive for the guilty plea was in sparing Harold Litten’s family the grief of a trial.
“I don’t have much to add,” Cook said after an emotional statement by Litten’s son, Richard Litten. “I can’t imagine what this family is feeling like. Mr. Rowan, I echo your attorney’s statement to an extent of you taking responsibility for what has happened here and for sparing the family weeks of a trial and uncertainty. To some extent, you are entitled to the credit of the resolution that has been reached here, though it certainly has benefited you with the potential you were facing.”
Rowan, dressed in a jail jumpsuit and shackled at the wrist, wore a smirk on his face through much of the late afternoon hearing. He didn’t apologize to the family nor face them.
Still, the plea brings a resolution to the case, said Assistant County Prosecutor Laura Dezort.
“In reaching this agreement, it was the desire of the parties to reach finality here, to basically make this matter come to a conclusion, and that conclusion includes any sort of legal maneuvering going forward,” she said.
Police arrested Rowan in October on charges of killing Litten, who family members reported missing on April 18 when he failed to show up for work, according to North Ridgeville police.
Detectives found Litten’s body in an outbuilding at his home at 5490 Jaycox Road on May 26 during a search of the property after several previous searches of the home turned up nothing. Police said Rowan turned himself in to the Lake Erie Correctional Facility for an unrelated parole violation charge three days after he killed Litten and tried to cover up the homicide.
A grand jury indicted Rowan on 16 counts, including aggravated murder, kidnapping, felonious assault, abuse of a corpse and other charges, in connection with Litten’s death and the prosecutors sought the death penalty. In Thursday’s plea agreement Rowan admitted guilt to everything in the indictment in exchange for a sentence of 30 years to life. He also waived all rights to appeal and will be eligible for parole only after serving 30 full years.
The deal dismissed all death penalty specifications.
Defense attorney David Doughten said the plea was the best deal Rowan could get.
“It is our belief that if this case went to trial this would be the result that we could have hoped for, so we think this plea is consistent with what the facts allow,” he said.
Doughten said he could offer no excuse for why his client killed Litten, but said Rowan’s life of drug addiction that started at the age of 13 played a part in the crime.
“In these cases a large part of it is the mitigation investigation, which is not an excuse,” he said. “But it’s an explanation of why John got in the position he is in. In a plea situation it is difficult because we recognize this is really about the victim and we understand the family doesn’t want to sit and hear anything they might perceive as an excuse. … Still, this is a situation where John’s very severe drug history got the best of him. … It just destroyed his life and ended up destroying other people’s lives also.”
Doughten, unlike his client, thanked the prosecutor and Litten’s family, “for recognizing John is not the worst of the worst.”
When it was his time to speak, Rowan offered nothing in the way of an apology.
Instead, he offered an explanation that pointed the finger back at Litten, who Rowan said spoke inappropriately about children.
“I did not go to work that day with the intent to kill anyone,” Rowan said.
Rowan detailed sordid allegation against Litten that immediately shocked his family seated in the courtroom. Rowan said the things he learned from Litten sent him into a blind rage and he beat him to death.
The claims enraged Litten’s son, Richard Litten, who struggled to keep his composure as he spoke about the father he moments later called the guidance throughout his life.
“My dad always sacrificed himself for the betterment of his family,” he said. “We feel the best way to carry on his legacy was to do the same. …So to show respect for my father, we let (Rowan) take this easy, easy, easy way out and allow my family to move forward and finally heal.”
Richard Litten said his father knew Rowan had a drug problem, but he still hired him to fix his car. When Rowan killed Litten, Richard said, Rowan beat his father to death, used duct tape to tie him up, wrapped him in a tarp and placed a stove on top of him in an attempt to hide his body. After the gruesome crime, Richard Litten said, Rowan sold his father’s work tools to pay for drugs.
“The difference between you and my father is he was the type of guy who knew what a piece of (expletive) you were and still gave you work,” he said.
Rowan screamed that Litten was a “monster” to which Richard Litten called Rowan a “(expletive) liar.”
It was a heated moment that saw court deputies move in between the two men to keep the peace.
After the hearing, Richard Litten said he was disgusted by what Rowan said.
“He still can’t admit his truth,” he said. “He deflected. He lied. It speaks volumes to the kind of man he was that no one in his family is even here. … We let him off easy.”
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