MUSCLE MURDER

THE DEATH OF MELISSA JAMES






Professional bodybuilder Craig Titus and his wife, Kelly Ryan, were arrested Friday December 23, 2005 in Stoughton as fugitives in the slaying of a woman whose body was found last week in Ryan's burned-out luxury car abandoned off a remote desert highway.

Titus, 40, and Ryan, 33, were arrested by federal agents and local police at the Shaw's Plaza in Stoughton and were being held in nearby Canton, FBI spokeswoman Gail Marcinkiewicz said. The two towns are about 15 miles south of Boston. Members of the FBI stormed into a Stoughton nail salon Friday afternoon -- where Ryan had planned to get her pedicure -- and arrested Titus and Ryan, who looked vastly different from the way they normally appear.

An FBI spokesman in Las Vegas said the two are expected to be returned to Las Vegas next week. Titus and Ryan were being held on a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on a warrant issued Dec. 20 in Las Vegas. Titus is wanted on state murder charges, and Ryan was sought as an accessory to murder. Titus and Ryan also are charged with third-degree arson.

Titus told Las Vegas police that he'd had a secret romance with the dead woman, Melissa James, 28, court records show. In an interview with police before they disappeared, neither Titus nor Ryan admitted any involvement with James' slaying. She had worked as a live-in personal assistant to the couple at their Las Vegas home. Her charred body was discovered Dec. 14 in the trunk of Ryan's burned red 2003 Jaguar in a remote spot southwest of Las Vegas. Titus and Ryan told a friend last week that they planned to go to a country that does not extradite people to the United States, according to a police report submitted to Las Vegas Justice Court. Titus told a business partner that he intended to meet a friend in Boston, liquidate his assets and leave the country, police said.

titus04.jpgDetails of police interviews with the bodybuilding couple were provided in a document seeking an arrest warrant for Titus, Ryan and Anthony Gross, 23. Gross was arrested Wednesday in Las Vegas and charged with accessory to murder and third-degree arson. He is scheduled for an initial court appearance Tuesday. The married bodybuilding couple remained free after telling detectives that James had been fired and evicted Dec. 13 because they believed she had been embezzling from them, and that they suspected James stole Ryan's car. According to court records, the couple claimed James was embezzling money from their bodybuilding business in Vegas. Titus and Ryan had not previously reported the financial theft nor the missing vehicle, police said. Titus told a detective that his wife was not aware of his affair with James. He told police he booked a hotel room Dec. 12 for two nights and spent most of one night there with James. James was last heard from when she spoke with her mother in New Jersey by cell phone shortly before noon Dec. 13.

Four days later, Amanda Polk, a bodybuilder who trained with Ryan, told police that Ryan told her she'd found James dead from a drug overdose and that she thought Titus had someone get rid of the body. Credit card receipts and security videotapes show that Ryan bought seven half-gallon bottles of charcoal starter fluid and a barbecue tool set at a Wal-Mart store in Las Vegas about 3:30 a.m. Dec. 14. The videotape shows her and a man putting the items in the back seat of a red mid-sized car similar to a Jaguar. Phone records showed Titus called Gross early Dec. 14, police said. Gross told investigators he met Titus, who drove the red Jaguar while Gross bought a can of gasoline and followed in his pickup to a remote area off state Highway 160. Gross told police Titus took the gas can, disappeared, and then jumped in the pickup.

Gross said he drove back to Las Vegas, but the two never discussed what happened.

Authorities later found James' body in the trunk of the burned Jaguar with white fabric around her neck and duct tape across the face. A suitcase was found in the back seat, along with the charred remains of a barbecue tool set. Police said James was found dashed with lighter fluid and duct tape on her face. The Clark County coroner determined James was probably asphyxiated, police said. The 5-foot-9-inch, 250-pound Titus won titles at the June 1996 National Physique Committee USA Championships and competed in Mr. Olympia events. Titus pleaded guilty in Louisiana in April 1995 to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute the party drug ecstasy, and served two years in jail for steroid-related offenses from 1997 to 1999. Ryan is a past Fitness America and Fitness International winner.

March 29, 2006 UPDATE:

Kelly Ryan participated in the brutality that culminated in the death of her personal assistant by using a Taser gun on the victim, beating her and helping to inject the woman with a massive dose of morphine, Ryan's self-described best friend told a grand jury.

In her testimony to the grand jury that indicted Ryan and Ryan's husband, Craig Titus, on murder charges, Megan Pierson, 25, also said Titus demonstrated how he strangled 28-year-old Melissa James, according to the grand jury transcripts.

Pierson told the grand jury that she and her husband, Jeremy Foley, were at Ryan and Titus' southwest valley home on Dec. 13, the same day authorities suspect Titus and Ryan's live-in assistant was slain.

Pierson testified that Ryan told her that a confrontation had occurred between her and James at the home because she and Titus suspected James was stealing from them and was planning to steal their identities.

Ryan is a 33-year-old past Ms. Fitness America and Ms. Olympia runner-up, and Titus is a 40-year-old past place-winner of international Mr. Olympia competitions.

"They had gone into Melissa's room and found, opened up, a lock box that had credit cards, copies of credit cards, a (home equity line of credit) statement ... and copies of IDs," Pierson said.

She said Titus was especially angry at the discovery.

"Very, very pissed," Pierson said, adding that Titus said, "There is three things that you don't mess with. That's friends, family and his money."

Pierson said Ryan told her that during a confrontation with James, she had taken a Taser gun away from James, then used it on James.

"It, I guess, stunned her in the back of her neck, but she (Ryan) didn't have it up high enough, so it just kind of got her attention," Pierson told the grand jury.

"And Kelly tried to do it again, and she, I guess she didn't have the voltage up high enough, so she yelled for Craig, and Craig came upstairs, picked Melissa up, brought her downstairs into the living room and supposedly body slammed her (James) and started beating her up," Pierson testified.

Ryan told Pierson that after the beating, James "took a Xanax" and went to bed, Pierson said.

"While she was sleeping, Kelly went into her room and punched her in the face," Pierson said.

"She (Ryan) said that she punched her a couple of times, she showed me the marks on her knuckles from it, and she said that ... Craig was holding her down and told Kelly to get the morphine and she shot a whole needle of morphine into her leg," Pierson said. "She said she was very resilient because it didn't do anything to her."

Later that evening, Titus demonstrated to Pierson "how you can strangle somebody," and then he demonstrated a chokehold for Pierson.

"He did it on me, and you instantly stop breathing," Pierson said. "It scared me the way that he motioned, the way that he showed it on me.

"Craig just walked in and started talking about it and, that's how, he started talking more about how he said that he killed Melissa," Pierson said.

"He said that he was joking around, but that is how he had killed Melissa, by strangling her," Pierson said.

"I mean, he was laughing, so I really did not believe he was serious," she said.

Pierson said that Titus then mentioned James' body was in his wife's car and that Titus said he was going to drive the vehicle to Red Rock, "scatter clothes around the car and set it on fire and make it look like a rape."

Pierson's testified before the grand jury earlier this month, and the grand jury wound up indicting Ryan and Titus on charges of murder and arson in the death of James.

Twenty-three-year-old Anthony Gross is charged with being an accessory to the killing and with arson.

Authorities allege Titus and Ryan killed James, then burned her body in Ryan's Jaguar off state Route 160 in the desert outside of Las Vegas. The burning car was discovered Dec. 14.

Pierson said when she and her husband left the home of Titus and Ryan the night of Dec. 13, Titus gave the couple a gym bag.

"We said our goodbyes, and there was a gym bag next to my purse," Pierson said. "I grabbed my purse, walked out and Craig said, 'Hey, wait, you forgot this,' and I said 'What is this?'"

"He said, 'Oh, don't worry about it, I talked to Jeremy about it; he said it was OK to have it at your house for a couple of weeks,' " Pierson said.

"He said that he knew the police were going to be coming to his house the next day, and he acted like he just didn't want whatever was in the bag in the house while the police were there," Pierson said.

The following day, she said, she looked in the gym bag and saw "a Taser gun, a stun gun, a gym rope, and something else for one of the Taser guns or stun gun," Pierson said.

Pierson said she turned the items over to police, and according to grand jury transcripts, authorities found other physical evidence that corroborated Pierson's account.

An analysis of the Taser gun indicated it had been fired multiple times on the day James was slain, and Las Vegas police crime scene analysts found remnants from the discharge of a Taser gun inside Titus and Ryan's home.

Also, a medical examiner told the grand jury that James had a high level of morphine in her body at the time of her death.

When questioned by a prosecutor in front of the grand jury, Pierson admitted she did not tell police what she knew when first questioned by police because "at first I was protecting Kelly."

It was all "very upsetting," Pierson said. "It's very depressing. ... I thought I knew her better than this."

Pierson said she was frightened by Titus. Nevertheless, she agreed to meet with Titus and Ryan a few days after Dec. 13 at an acquaintance's house.

"Kelly was playing dumb, saying that 'they (police) think we did it,' and Craig said that they were going to go to Greece," Pierson said. "He said, 'It's no big deal. Kelly is going to continue to compete there, everything will be fine,' and he said he only needed two witnesses to say that she (James) was overdosed in the front seat of the car and that they'd get off."

Ryan's attorney, Tom Pitaro, declined to comment on the grand jury transcripts Tuesday because he had not read them yet.

Titus' defense attorney, Richard Schonfeld, declined to comment on the specifics of the transcripts, but he said the veracity of the evidence is expected to be challenged in District Court. He previously said that Titus' accusers have significant credibility problems.

Authorities allege that Titus and Ryan first told police they did not know what happened to James. They later said they found her dead of a drug overdose, then panicked and burned her body.


UPDATE :

Prosecutors added two new charges against Kelly Ryan. "The primary difference is that we have now charged Kelly Ryan with the murder of Melissa James," said Robert Daskas, prosecutor. Ryan is charged with kidnapping as well.

Daskas called it premature to say whether authorities would seek the death penalty based on upgraded charges.

Titus, 41, who made his first appearance in a Las Vegas court, previously faced murder, accessory to murder and third-degree arson charges. He is also now facing an additional charge of kidnapping.

Ryan, 33, had appeared Tuesday on accessory and arson charges in the slaying of 28-year-old Melissa James, a former fitness instructor who moved last year from Lambertville, N.J. to live with Titus and Ryan. Her charred body was found Dec. 14 in the trunk of Ryan's burned Jaguar off a desert highway outside Las Vegas.

Neither Titus nor Ryan was asked Wednesday to enter a plea to the amended complaint. They remained shackled to other Clark County jail inmates as they sat two rows apart. At one point in court, it appeared Titus turned to his wife and mouthed the words "don't say nothing."

Titus' rippling arm muscles stretched the fabric of his blue jail uniform. He offered a one-word reply when he and Ryan stood and Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Joe M. Bonaventure asked each if they understood the charges. "Absolutely," Titus said. "Yes, sir," Ryan said.

Daskas declined Wednesday to describe a motive for the slaying. The complaint accuses Titus and Ryan of using a Taser stun gun, administering morphine or a related drug, and asphyxiating or suffocating James with a fabric or wire around her neck.

Their lawyers have maintained Titus and Ryan are innocent of the charges. "On behalf of our client, he is 100 percent not guilty," Boston-based lawyer Steven Boozang said as he and Las Vegas lawyer Richard Schonfeld met reporters outside the courtroom.

Ryan's lawyer, Tom Pitaro, was not immediately available for comment. Bonaventure, who had planned to consider bail for Ryan, scheduled a formal bail hearing Feb. 10, and a preliminary hearing March 29.

An alleged accomplice in the case, Anthony Gross, also appeared in court Wednesday, although charges against him remained the same.

Gross, 23, was arrested Dec. 21 and has pleaded not guilty to accessory to murder and third-degree arson. He remains under house arrest after posting $13,000 bail.

His lawyer, Louis Palazzo, noted Wednesday that Gross remained in Las Vegas and cooperated with police when he was interviewed after James' body was found. "I'm certainly not going to let him be a scapegoat in connection with this case and we'll meet these charges head on."

Gross told authorities he bought a can of gasoline and followed in his pickup while Titus allegedly drove the Jaguar to a remote spot outside Las Vegas, took the gas and set the car afire. Gross told police he drove Titus back to Las Vegas, but they did not discuss what happened.

"He's a young man who probably looked up to Mr. Titus who you know had gained celebrity status," Palazzo said.

Titus and Ryan were arrested Dec. 23 in Stoughton, Mass., near Boston, and returned last week to Clark County jail.

Boozang has denied the couple fled Las Vegas to avoid charges after being interviewed by police in the case. He said they had intended to spend the Christmas holidays with friends in the Boston area, and left town before charges were filed and arrest warrants were issued Dec. 20.

Titus won a 1996 bodybuilding championship and competed in Mr. Olympia events. Ryan is a past Fitness America and Fitness International winner and Fitness Olympia runner-up.
(KLAS-TV, Las Vegas)
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


UPDATE: 10/2006
BODYBUILDERS CASE: Murder-for-hire plot alleged

Man suspected of trying to have Titus-Ryan witnesses killed

A man with ties to bodybuilder Craig Titus has been charged with trying to hire a hit man to kill three witnesses in Titus' high-profile murder case.

Titus and his wife, Kelly Ryan, are charged with murder in the December death of their personal assistant, Melissa James, 28.

According to police reports obtained Friday by the Review-Journal, Nelson Ronald Brady Jr. of Las Vegas was arrested this week on three counts of solicitation to commit murder. Detectives allege in the reports that Brady met with an undercover detective posing as a hit man in May, then paid $1,500 as a down payment to have the three potential witnesses in Titus' murder case killed.

Police reports identified two of the targets as Megan Pierson Foley and her husband, Jeremy Foley. The pair, who are considered crucial witnesses in the case, told a grand jury that Titus and Ryan had made incriminating statements about James' demise.

A third target of the plot, according to police reports, was Anthony Gross, who is charged with helping Titus and Ryan dispose of James' body.
Authorities said Friday night that they had not charged Titus or Ryan in the murder-for-hire plot.

Clark County prosecutor Robert Daskas declined to comment when asked whether anyone else would be charged. Daskas did confirm, however, that Brady and Titus were once housed together at the Clark County Detention Center and that police had recorded phone calls between the two men.

"Titus and Brady were housed together at the Clark County Detention Center, and we have confirmation that when Brady was released from jail, they stayed in telephone contact," Daskas said.

Titus' defense attorney, Marc Saggese, said Titus had nothing to do with any plan to kill witnesses in his case. Saggese described Brady as a drug-addicted loner who was acting on his own.

The attorney said he does not believe Titus will be charged.
"It's smoke and mirrors -- a game," Saggese said. "They know they could not substantiate this. There's not a shred of evidence to support the premise that Craig had anything to do with this."

Ryan's attorney, Greg Denue, said his client has had nothing to do with Brady. "Even if any of this is true, it doesn't show any involvement with my client," Denue said.

In December of 2005, James' body was found in Ryan's burning Jaguar off state Route 160.

Titus, 41, and Ryan, 34, are celebrities in the fitness world. Titus is a past place finisher in the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition and Ryan is one of the most accomplished female fitness athletes in the nation.

Authorities said the two killed James by beating her, using a Taser on her, drugging her with morphine and duct-taping her face at Titus and Ryan's southwest Las Vegas home. Police allege they then secured the help of Gross in taking James' body into the desert, where it was set ablaze.

Pierson Foley told a grand jury earlier this year that she and her husband were at Titus and Ryan's house in the hours before James' body was found, and that Titus and Ryan made incriminating statements about James' death. Pierson Foley said Ryan told her that during a confrontation with James, she took a Taser gun away from James and used it on her.

"It, I guess, stunned her in the back of her neck, but she (Ryan) didn't have it (the Taser) up high enough, so it just kind of got her attention," Pierson Foley told the grand jury.

"Kelly tried to do it again, and she, I guess she didn't have the voltage up high enough, so she yelled for Craig, and Craig came upstairs, picked Melissa up, brought her downstairs into the living room and supposedly body slammed her and started beating her up," Pierson Foley testified.

Ryan told Pierson Foley that after the beating, James "took a Xanax" and went to bed, Pierson Foley testified.

"While she was sleeping, Kelly went into her room and punched her in the face," Pierson Foley said.

"She (Ryan) said that she punched her a couple of times, she showed me the marks on her knuckles from it, and she said that ... Craig was holding her down and told Kelly to get the morphine and she shot a whole needle of morphine into her leg," Pierson Foley testified.

Later that evening, Titus demonstrated for Pierson Foley "how you can strangle somebody," and then he demonstrated a choke hold for Pierson Foley, according to her grand jury testimony. "He did it on me, and you instantly stop breathing," Pierson Foley said.

"Craig just walked in and started talking about it and, that's how, he started talking more about how he said that he killed Melissa," Pierson Foley said.

According to police reports, in March police developed an informant at the Clark County Detention Center named Deem Cassim. Cassim is jailed for the December 2004 robbery of 2004 World Series of Poker champion Greg "Fossilman" Raymer outside his Bellagio Hotel room.

Cassim told homicide detectives that he had been approached by Brady, a fellow inmate, "for the contract killing of Anthony Gross and the possible contract killing of two other witnesses in the case against Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan," police reports state.

"Cassim believed Brady and Titus were in contact with each other, had discussed details of Titus' case, and discussed what needed to be done with Gross," a police affidavit states. "Cassim said Brady gave him details about the use of a Taser only the police and Titus would know."

Cassim explained to Brady how the killings could be coordinated from inside the detention center, according to the reports. Cassim would contact a hit man on the outside, and when Brady was released, he would meet with a go-between and "provide them with an envelope containing the up front money, a picture of Gross, Gross' address, and the names of any bars or clubs Gross frequented."

When Brady was released from custody, several phone calls between Brady and Cassim were recorded by police. In one phone call, the men discussed financing the slayings and the need for the hit man to provide proof of the victims' killings by producing photos of their dead bodies.

Two separate meetings between Brady and the go-between, an undercover detective, were set up at an area Starbucks, police reports state. Brady failed to show up to both meetings.

According to police reports, Brady did show up at a third meeting with the undercover detective and produced two envelopes containing $500 each. In a meeting that was taped by police, Brady was heard discussing how one of the envelopes was for a "book publication."

When detectives later opened the envelopes, they found the money, a photo of Gross and personal information about Gross and the Foleys, according to the reports.

In a subsequent meeting with the undercover detective, Brady produced $500 more and wrote down an address where photos of the dead bodies could be sent, according to police.

According to police reports, Titus spoke with Brady twice by phone from the Clark County Detention Center during the investigation and the conversations were taped.

In one conversation, Titus and Brady talk about a "book publishing deal," according to the reports.

"Brady said that he had been on the Internet to see which characters are going to be in the book," according to a police affidavit. "Brady says he knows how to keep those characters from being in his book. Titus said, 'Yeah. No (expletive). Yeah, from the screen play, yeah."

The two men also discussed money briefly, and Titus mentioned a "publisher," according to authorities.

"Brady says yeah, but they want some money, and I've been trying to drum up money to get these people to give their stories, and that's what I need help with," according to a police affidavit. "Brady says he needs 'ten.' Brady tells Titus he is going to walk."

A second phone conversation between Titus and Brady was recorded on May 19, the day of the second meeting between Brady and the undercover detective, according to police.

"Brady tells Titus he is taken care of," a police affidavit stated. "Brady says he is talking about 'the book.' Brady tells Titus they will be making money on that book. He tells Titus that the book has been paid for. Titus changes the subject.

"Titus tells Brady the types of vehicles that targets 'number two' (Megan) and 'number three' Jeremy drive," the affidavit said. "Brady says 'That's not going to be an issue, those two, anyway.'"

Daskas said Friday night that police made sure the three targets of the plot were never in danger.

"We have zero tolerance for someone who's willing to manipulate the outcome of a prosecution by harming citizens who provide information to law enforcement," Daskas said. "Both Metro homicide detectives and our office have monitored this particular situation very closely for several months to ensure that these witnesses were never in harm's way."
Titus and Ryan are scheduled to go to trial in January.

Review-Journal writer David Kihara contributed to this report.

UPDATE MAY 31, 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.

UPDATE: August 2008


Craig Titus Sentenced
Craig Titus was sentenced to 21-55 years.. Kelly Ryan was sentenced 6-26 years in prison.

Notes....

Craig Titus pleaded guilty on May 30 to second-degree murder, kidnapping and arson. Kelly Ryan pleaded guilty to arson and Nevada’s equivalent of no contest to battery with a deadly weapon.According the sources, Kelly read a statement, and could not stop crying. Then Craig came up, said he was sorry, and called himself a coward for his acts, and apoligized.

Then Maura James came up, and begged the judge for the maximum sentence, and asked for a gag order on Craig and Kelly. The judge decided not to impose a gag order, then procedeed to lecture Craig and Kelly, and then he threw the book at them, and gave them whatever he could. Kelly’s sentence of 6 to 26 years means that in 6 years, she will be eligible for parole, although she has served close to 3 years, with a maximum of 26 years she can spend in jail.

Craig’’s sentence of 21 to 51 years means that in 21 years, he will be eligible for parole in 21 years, less time served already. Both defendants and the mother of the slain woman shed tears during an emotional and sometimes contentious sentencing that featured Titus' first on-the-record account of James' death and a challenge by Titus' lawyer of his sentence. Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass stopped the sentencing hearing briefly and met behind closed doors with defense lawyers and prosecutors after Titus' lawyer stood and complained he was “blindsided” by the imposition of a 21-year sentence. Defense lawyer Marc Saggese said he had been assured before Titus pleaded guilty May 30 to second-degree murder, kidnapping and arson that Titus would have a chance at parole after 15 to 17 years.

The plea deal avoided trial and spared Ryan from pleading guilty to murder. She pleaded guilty to arson and entered an “Alford” plea, or Nevada's equivalent of no contest, to battery with a deadly weapon. The judge reconvened the hearing and told Saggese he could seek to invalidate the plea agreement, but that would open Titus to facing life in prison under the more serious charge of first-degree murder. Saggese said outside court he would ask Titus if he wants to appeal. Titus had claimed the couple found James dead of an overdose, panicked and disposed of the body. But the judge declared from the bench that she didn't believe a word of Titus' account of James' death and the couple's gruesome attempts to dispose of her body. She dismissed Titus tears as “crocodile tears.” “He's a murderer,” Glass said. The judge said she also was not swayed by Ryan's sobbing plea for forgiveness from the court and from James' mother, Maura James, of Lambertville, N.J. James, who spoke of the pain of her daughter's death “at the hands of people she thought were her friends,” implored the judge to consider how her daughter died and to impose the maximum possible sentence. “I am truly, truly sorry,” Ryan said. “I know I did not kill. But I did aid in the events. I know I was not in a state of mind emotionally or physically to make the right decisions or to, oh God, to take appropriate control of what was happening.”

Titus, in his turn to address the court, declared himself “ashamed and sickened of my actions after Melissa passed away,” and said he was so affected by drug abuse that he “wasn't thinking straight.” “I let drug use get way out of control in my home,” he said. “I failed my wife. I failed my family. And most regretfully, I failed Melissa, who was my friend.” Titus had a drug history. He served almost two years in federal prison after being convicted of selling Ecstasy in October 1995. He got probation, but it was revoked when he tested positive for steroids. He was released in April 1999. Friends told police that Titus and Ryan used the prescription painkiller OxyContin, and a witnesses testified that Titus once bought $500 worth of morphine. Both Titus and Ryan told police they injected the synthetic opiate Nalbuphine, and that Ryan tried methamphetamine.

In pretrial documents, prosecutors also raised the issue of steroid-induced aggression sometimes called “roid rage.” Through his lawyer, the heavily muscled Titus maintained Friday that James' death was an accident – that he beat and body-slammed her several times in a drug-fueled rage after arriving home to find James fighting and using a Taser stun gun on Ryan. Saggese said Titus and Ryan then heard James ransacking her room, and later panicked after finding her dead of a drug overdose. “There was no premeditation,” Saggese said. “He went too far. His actions caused the death of Melissa James.” “Then, all of the brutal chain of events starts,” Saggese said, “once they decide they're going to dispose of the body.” Prosecutor Robert Daskas said James' head was encased in duct tape, and showed the court graphic photos of a “death mask” formed by her face when it peeled away with the heavy tape during her autopsy. Daskas said James was beaten, drugged, stunned with a Taser, injected with morphine and strangled before she was “burned beyond anybody's recognition” in the trunk of Ryan's car. But he said investigators could never say for sure whether James was still alive in the back of the red Jaguar caught on videotape outside a Wal-Mart – where Ryan bought charcoal starter fluid and a backyard barbecue set at 3:30 a.m. – or at a gas station where Titus, Ryan and a friend allegedly bought another $2.66 worth of gasoline. The barbecue set was later found burned in Ryan's car. The friend, Anthony Gross, 26, remained free Friday without bond awaiting a separate trial on felony accessory to murder and third-degree arson charges. He has pleaded not guilty, and is due in court for a status check next Tuesday. Gross is accused of meeting Titus and Ryan at the gas station and driving them back to Las Vegas after they set Ryan's Jaguar ablaze in the desert outside Las Vegas.


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