Thursday, June 05, 2008

Bodybuilders Take Plea Deal in Assistant's Murder Titus and Kelly Ryan

May 30, 2008

The celebrity bodybuilder couple accused of murdering their assistant will save the county the trouble of a trial. Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan finalized a plea deal with prosecutors late Friday afternoon, avoiding a trial set to begin Monday.

Over two years ago, police found the remains of Melissa James in a burned- out car in the desert. Titus and Ryan fled the state and changed their appearances, but were captured in Massachusetts after a national manhunt.

The district attorney's office says it's a fair deal. It's one both the victim's family and detectives in the case agree with, because it makes Craig Titus admit to murder and his wife to helping destroy evidence.

"I think both defendants recognize that a train was coming down the tracks and either they resolved it today or we were going to go to a jury trail and leave it up to a jury," said prosecutor Robert Daskas.

With the couple both facing possible life sentences for murder, Titus moved to save his wife.

"As we approached trial, Craig Titus became more and more worried about the exposure his wife was going to have to first degree murder," said Titus' attorney Marc Saggese.

Titus agreed to plead guilty to second degree murder in the death of his live-in assistant Melissa James, along with kidnapping and arson.

"He did accept responsibility and that is evidenced by his entering into a guilty plea," said Saggese.

By admitting to the murder, Ryan was cleared of the charge and given a plea deal of battery with a deadly weapon and first degree arson.

"She was faced with more serious charges -- significantly more serious charges. We feel that this is a fair resolution for her," said Ryan's attorney Michael Cristalli.

She now faces no criminal liability in James' death. But with overwhelming evidence, both had to admit to arson.

"We had strong evidence that they purchased lighter fluid that was used to ultimately light the car with Melissa James in the trunk," said Daskas.

The prosecutor says, while there are unanswered questions about James' murder, details are finally coming out.

"We've always believed, and I think the guilty pleas reflects that there was a confrontation between Kelly and Melissa and that Craig intervened, and ultimately it was Craig Titus that killed Melissa James," said Daskas.

Titus has asked to speak at his sentencing so he can apologize to James' mother, who was once a close friend.

"He has never had an opportunity to talk to her or say he was sorry or to discuss how this unfolded," said Saggese.

Titus faces 15 to 55 years in prison. He has already served two and a half years. Kelly Ryan's attorney says he has asked to argue for probation for her charges.