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PENSACOLA, Fla. — A jury of 12 people on Thursday found former Master-at-Arms 3rd Class (SW) Zachary Littleton guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Samira Watkins.
He was sentenced to life in prison, the only possible sentence.
Watkins' family sat in the third row of seats in the crowded courtroom. They grasped each other's hands and took deep breaths as the court clerk began to read the verdict. A collective sigh filled the air after it was read.
Littleton's wife left the courtroom after the decision, along with a man who burst into tears and wailed as the crowd trickled out of the courtroom.
Watkins' stepfather, Kevin Willis, led her 5-year-old son, Daqun, to the lectern in the courtroom.
The little boy didn't talk, but Willis did.
"She was a wonderful girl," he said. "She was one of the ones out of all the kids who was going to be somebody and have a career and a good life. It's a tragedy that her life had to be taken away over a paternity suit. I just don't know why Zachary Littleton could do something like that."
Littleton addressed the court, his family and Watkins' family prior to his receiving the mandatory life sentence for a first-degree murder conviction. He stood in his black suit, his wrists cuffed and spoke in a calm, quiet tone.
"There were a lot of things that were said about me that made me look like a bad person," he said. "I understand their attorney had a job that she had to do, but there were a lot of things done behind the scene that didn't come out in the trial.
"My apologies to Samira's family. I know you want closure, but I didn't do it. I don't want to take the strike but I will. But I know my God will be with me wherever I go and he'll be with my family."
He looked around for his wife and the man he described as his cousin who left the courtroom immediately after the decision was read.
"I don't see my wife in here, but let her know that I love her and to take care of my daughter," he said. "I know there's a process that comes after this, but I'll fight to my dying breath to get back to them."
Littleton's defense attorney told the jury during closing arguments earlier Thursday that the state's case against her client is weak and based on circumstantial evidence.
Despite the married man's philandering with a woman he got pregnant, Sharon Wilson said there wasn't enough evidence for a jury to find him guilty of the 2009 murder of Samira Watkins.
"Find him guilty of bad judgment. That's not a crime," she said. "Finding him guilty of murder, that's not justice. In our justice system we do not convict on suspicion. We do not try cases on hunches. We don't convict on speculation."
During Wilson's closing argument, Littleton sat with his arm pitched on the defense table. Closing arguments concluded about 10:15 a.m.
Littleton was accused of killing Watkins, stuffing her body in a duffel bag and throwing it into body into Bayou Grande near Naval Air Station Pensacola. Watkins' body was recovered from Bayou Grande on Nov. 3, 2009, when it was discovered by two men.
Paper towels and cleaning cloths in the bag matched similar products found in Littleton's home. A gold earring found in Watkins' ear also matched a gold earring found in Littleton's apartment. DNA confirmed the earring was hers.
Assistant State Attorney Bridgette Jensen's closing argument consisted of a timeline that tied phone records, computers searches, interviews and physical evidence together to construct a portrait of a man desperate to hide his extra-marital affair with his wife and child's relocation looming in the weeks ahead.
"Samira Watkins was alive for 25 years until she met the defendant at the gate at Pensacola NAS," Jensen said. "Who is the only common denominator throughout this trial?
"Who's got motive? Who have you heard throughout this trial has the only motive? He could be discharged for an affair, a member can lose rank and his wife and daughter were moving to Pensacola."