MARTINEZ -- Moments after Michael Littman was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and two other felonies in the death of a neighbor with whom he feuded over a shared driveway, he was allowed to go free on bail, with conditions, by a Contra Costa judge.
When prosecutor Molly Manoukian argued against even limited freedom for Littman, Judge Charles Burch replied: "This is not your run-of-the-mill defendant you see day in and day out."
The past eight months have supported Burch's contention in more ways than one. Littman, out on $1 million bail, has been a man in motion -- three motions, to be precise, all filed by defense attorney Michael Cardoza. The motions request that the judge modify Littman's bail condition, which restricts him from traveling outside Contra Costa County and visiting his Stonegate Drive home in Alamo.
Littman's freedom and the motions to augment it "may be unusual, but it speaks volumes about the facts in this case," said Cardoza, who will file another motion Sept. 5 seeking a new trial. "The prosecutor said he was a threat to the community. The judge said, 'Explain to me how he's a threat.' She couldn't. This clearly was an aberration. The man is 60 years old. Why do you think he's going to go out and hurt somebody?"
"The defendant was convicted of stalking and killing Doris Penico," Manoukian said. "Before he killed her, he physically threatened her. He also violently beat Victor Penico and was convicted of that crime. The defendant has demonstrated his dangerousness to the community. No further proof is needed nor should it be."
According to court documents, the first motion to modify bail came Feb. 4, two weeks after the trial in which Littman was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, stalking and assault in the death of Doris Penico after a physical confrontation that resulted in Penico hitting her head on the disputed driveway.
The motion sought permission for Littman to travel to Berkeley for brokers' tours at a property he was trying to sell; to Vallejo to prepare a rental property for sale; and to Alameda to assist his wife in manning a booth at an antique fair. On Feb. 21, the exceptions were granted by Judge Burch.
Littman's scheduled March 7 sentencing was subsequently pushed back to June 20, prompting a new wish list, filed March 27, which included a weeklong trip to Eugene, Oregon, for a collector's event that featured a two-day gun and knife show. Burch denied the request, as well as an oral request from Littman to have his passport returned.
The judge also denied a request for Littman to return to his Stonegate Drive home on 21 dates to prepare the house for sale. But Littman was OK'd to attend the monthly Alameda antique event, as well as a similar fair in Napa. He also was allowed to travel to San Francisco for appointments at law offices and to pick up his wife at the airport.
When Littman's June 20 sentencing was moved to Sept. 12, Cardoza responded with a motion dated June 12 seeking permission for Littman to attend five more antique events outside the county. Burch granted three exceptions and denied two.
"I'd call this a long sentencing," said Lafayette-based attorney Daniel Horowitz, who has served as a legal expert on several TV networks. "It's really a battle over what the sentence is going to be. The more leeway the defense can get, and assuming Littman is on his best behavior, the stronger their argument for a minimum sentence or even probation."
The maximum sentence for the voluntary manslaughter charge alone is 11 years in prison.
After the third motion filed by Cardoza, Manoukian renewed her objection in a written argument to Judge Burch.
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.