TEXARKANA, Texas — A Texas appellate court has affirmed a local man's five felony child sex abuse convictions and 100-year sentence.
Russell Layne Little, 43, was found guilty by a Bowie County jury in October 2019 of two counts of sexual assault of a child and three counts of indecency with a child by sexual contact and sentenced to maximum 20-year terms on each count. A motion from the state to run the five 20-year sentences was granted at trial.
All of the charges against Little stem from his misconduct with a friend of his daughter's. The victim was 14 when she met Little and spent time at his home. Little was also a youth group leader at a local church, where he was "very hands-on" with the girls, according to trial testimony and an opinion issued Wednesday by the 6th District Court of Appeals in Texarkana.
Adults in the church who observed Little's interactions with girls in the congregation testified they were concerned by what they saw. The victim in Little's case made an outcry of sexual abuse which was reported to the Bowie County Sheriff's Office by the wife of a church deacon.
Two other girls testified at Little's trial that they had been touched inappropriately by Little as well.
On appeal, Little argued the evidence against him was insufficient to support a conviction, that some of his convictions violate double jeopardy laws, that the jury shouldn't have heard from the two other girls who accused him of inappropriate touching, that the prosecutor made improper comments in her closing arguments and that his 100-year term amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
The higher court overruled Little's claim that the evidence was legally insufficient. The opinion points to the testimony of Little's victim and notes the jury needed only to believe her testimony to reach a guilty verdict on each of the five felonies.
The court also rejected Little's claim that convicting him of two crimes — indecency with a child by sexual contact and sexual assault of a child — that occurred on the same day in January 2017 is double jeopardy. The higher court found that Little committed two separate crimes that were separately punished.
The appellate court declined to analyze Little's three remaining claims because they were not preserved through objections by his trial counsel. Little's lawyer did not object to the argument of First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp when she made them and did not ask the court to instruct the jury to disregard them or request a mistrial.
The 6th Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that Little's convictions and sentence will stand. Little can appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Little is currently being held at the Beto Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Palestine, Texas. His parole eligibility date is listed as Oct. 2, 2029, on TDCJ's website. Eligibility for parole is not a guarantee that parole will be granted.