A history of the Craig Titus-Kelly Ryan case in the murder of Melissa James
May 31, 2008
From the time the body of Melissa James was found in a burned out Jaguar in the Las Vegas Desert on December 14, 2005, until the guilty pleas entered by Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan on Friday, the saga has played out like a made-for-television movie.
The following articles dating back to March of 2006 are accounts from the pages of FLEX magazine of the events surrounding and leading up to James' death, and the events after Titus and Ryan's arrest on December 23, 2005.
MURDER IN LAS VEGAS
The following is a chronology of the up-to-the-latest news on Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan.
Dec. 14, 2005: The following release was issued by the Las Vegas Police Department: "On December 14, 2005, at approximately 4:40 a.m., a trucker was traveling on State Route 160 (Blue Diamond Rd) from Pahrump toward Las Vegas when he spotted a fire in the desert about a half-mile from the road. When firefighters extinguished the blaze, they observed what appeared to be human remains in the trunk of the car. The remains were confirmed to be that of a human, and under the circumstances, it is being investigated as a homicide." That car turned out to be a 2003 Jaguar registered to Kelly Ryan; the victim was later identified as 28-year-old Melissa James, originally of Florida, a personal assistant to the couple who had been recently living with them in their Las Vegas residence.
Dec. 16, 2005: Rumors reach the FLEX offices that Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan are facing trouble with the law. Police officials confirm off the record that charges are pending against the couple.
Dec. 19, 2005: The story begins to leak on bodybuilding message boards theories abound, but details remain sketchy among posters, many incredulous at the admittedly bizarre and unbelievable chain of events that seemed to be unfolding.
Dec. 21, 2005: The Las Vegas Police Department issues this release: "Investigation has resulted in arrest warrants being issued for three suspects.
1. Titus, Craig Michael, DOB: 01/14/1965, 5 feet 8 inches, 225 lbs., brown hair with hazel eyes. Hair is very short.
2. Ryan, Kelly Ann, DOB: 07/10/1972, 5 feet 3 inches, 120 lbs., brown hair with green eyes.
Titus has a no-bail arrest warrant charging him with murder and third degree arson. Ryan has a no-bail arrest warrant charging her with accessory to murder and third degree arson.
A third suspect has been identified as 23-year-old Anthony Gross. Gross is in custody and has been booked into the Clark County Detention Center on charges of accessory to murder and third-degree arson.
Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan are husband and wife and were living in the southwest area of Las Vegas. Both are successful bodybuilders and hold numerous titles in the bodybuilding and fitness industry. At this time it is unclear where the two suspects may have fled."
Police allege that Titus strangled James to death, and that Ryan and Gross assisted in attempting to dispose of the body James' body was put in the trunk of Ryan's vehicle that was then set on fire. The couple also allegedly purchased several bottles of lighter fluid from a local store before the crime occurred. And, while not presented publicly as a motive by investigators, Titus allegedly admitted to having an affair with the victim, James, when initially questioned by Las Vegas police.
Dec. 23, 2005: Titus and Ryan are captured in Stoughton, Massachusetts by the FBI without incident Ryan was getting a pedicure at a nail salon, while Titus was out in his pickup truck in the Shaw's Plaza parking lot. Sources said the couple drove to Massachusetts where Titus was attempting to meet up with a friend of 16 years, Matt Cline, to secure money. Police contend that Titus and Ryan were planning to liquidate their assets and flee to Greece investigators said they found $8,300 in cash in Titus' truck. Later, an attorney for Titus would tell reporters the two were on a holiday vacation in Massachusetts, and were unaware arrest warrants had even been issued until shortly before they were apprehended.
Dec. 24, 2005: Las Vegas homicide detectives who flew out to Massachusetts upon word of Titus' and Ryan's capture interview the two separately in jail, reportedly without their attorneys present. Police don't release details of what was said in these meetings, but do indicate that nothing revealed was inconsistent with the existing evidence.
Dec. 27, 2005: Titus and Ryan are arraigned in Stoughton, Massachusetts, where they enter a plea of not guilty on the charges against them and, through their attorneys, reveal that they would be fighting extradition charges to Nevada, setting in motion a court process that could take as long as eight weeks. The hearing is then postponed until January 12. Titus and Ryan were denied bail and are being held at the Northfolk County Correctional Facilities in Dedham, Massachusetts. Also on Dec. 27, Gross appears in court in Las Vegas, where his bail is set at $13,000; as a condition of bail, the judge said Gross would be under house arrest, and was not allowed to have contact with Titus or Ryan. Meanwhile, the victim's mother, Maura James, spoke about the murder of her daughter to a national audience on ABC's "Good Morning America" program.
Jan. 12, 2006: Geraldo Rivera displays his utter lack of journalistic credibility or intelligence in a segment on the Titus and Ryan case during his show, "Geraldo At Large" on Fox TV. The piece, which superficially covered the events in the case up to the air date, ended with Rivera's offhand comment, "I smell steroid rage." It's clearly a baseless comment with the evidence currently available to the press, but as the world has learned with Rivera, he's a man who will never let facts stand in the way of his reporting. Other news shows have covered the story too, some decidedly better than Rivera, including MSNBC's "Abrams Report," and Fox News Channel's "On The Record with Greta Van Susteren," as well as People magazine and The National Enquirer.
Jan. 17, 2006: In a move that cleared the way for the two to return to Nevada to face the charges against them, Titus and Ryan waived rendition in Massachusetts, meaning they were no longer fighting extradition. Statements from Titus' lawyer Steven Boozang indicate that Titus wants to get back to Nevada and fight the charges head-on.
Jan. 23 2006: Legal proceedings in the Melissa James murder case continued, as Craig Titus, Kelly Ryan and Anthony Gross made brief court appearances this week, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, in Las Vegas. It was the first time in court for Titus and Ryan since they were brought back to Nevada after their capture in Massachusetts Dec. 23. Charges against Ryan were amended to include murder and kidnapping, while kidnapping was added to the slate of charges (murder and third-degree arson) against Titus. In the prosecution's case, it is alleged Titus and Ryan used a Taser stun gun on James, administered a drug (possibly morphine), and strangled her with wire or fabric, before putting her body in the trunk of Ryan's Jaguar and setting it afire in the desert outside Las Vegas. Meanwhile, word comes out that someone is shopping around a sex tape featuring Titus, Ryan, murder victim Melissa James and another unidentified female to news agencies. The filming may have taken place as long ago as 2002. No buyers emerge for the tape.
March 30, 2006: Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan both plead not guilty to the charges of murder with a deadly weapon, first-degree kidnapping and third-degree arson during a brief arraignment hearing in Las Vegas. Alleged accomplice Anthony Gross also pleads not guilty to the charges against him, accessory to murder and third-degree arson; he remains under house arrest on $13,000 bail, while Titus and Ryan remain in the Clark County detention system. Titus and Ryan's trial date has been set for January 22, 2007.
April 18, 2006: Bail denied for Titus and Ryan; the judge rules that they pose a "significant" flight risk.
April 22, 2006: Ryan's mother, Norma (Nikki) Marguerite Ryan of Laguna Niguel, California, passes away of a heart attack at the age of 61. The rehabilitation specialist at Mission Viejo Hospital, who had been shuttling back and forth to Las Vegas to help sell Titus and Ryan's home to raise money for legal fees, had been showing her own home to a real estate agent when she collapsed, according to a report in the Las Vegas Review Journal.
July 10, 2006: A letter from Craig Titus is read by host Dan Solomon on the Pro Bodybuilding Weekly radio show, in which Titus claims "100%" innocence, and that he and Ryan will be acquitted of all charges. He also announces that he is writing a book to be titled, "Titus Tells All," which will reveal sordid details of bodybuilding behind the scenes.
July 18, 2006: Titus and Ryan appear in court in regard to arguments for the defendants' request for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (basically, a request for a dismissal of the charges and release from custody). The appearance is marked by an outburst from Titus after a District Attorney statement. Judge Jackie Glass denies the motion, and schedules the trial date for January 22, 2007 (this date is later pushed back).
July 24, 2006: A key witness in the Titus and Ryan case, Mandy Polk, is interviewed on Pro Bodybuilding Weekly. Mandy and her boyfriend at the time, Ryan Chastain, were renting a home from Titus and Ryan. Polk said that Craig and Kelly had come over to their home the night of the alleged murder, asking to stay the night.
September 14, 2006: An interview of Titus by reporter Glenn Puit in the Las Vegas Review-Journal the first interview he gave the press since his arrest reveals that he fired his legal team (Richard Schonfeld and Steven Boozang), hiring Las Vegas attorney Marc Saggese. Ryan, meanwhile, also switched lawyers, letting go of Thomas Pitaro and hiring Greg Denue.
October 21, 2006: In a bizarre twist, Nelson Brady, 34, is arrested and charged with three counts of solicitation to commit murder. Police allege that Brady, a fellow inmate with Titus for a period of time in February 2006 and alleged by police as an acquaintance of Titus in the past, attempted to hatch a plot to put out a hit on three key witnesses in the Titus case, including co-defendant Anthony Gross. Titus is not charged, and through his lawyers denies any involvement.
October 23, 2006: Nelson Brady appears in a Las Vegas courtroom. Police allege Brady tried to hire an undercover officer in May to murder three witnesses in the Titus/Ryan case, paying $1,500 as a down payment.
November 9, 2006: A pretrial motion hearing for Titus and Ryan is set for January 22, 2007. Anthony Gross is given a separate trial from Titus and Ryan, slated to begin June 4, 2007.
November 21, 2006: The informant who revealed the alleged murder-for-hire plot, Deen Cassim, 32, had his 3-to-12 year sentence for robbing former World Series of Poker champion Greg Raymer in December 2004 reduced to probation in June, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Titus lawyer, Marc Saggese, says the reduction of Cassim's sentence was inappropriate and that Titus was a victim of a setup.
November 27, 2006: Nelson Brady's bail set at $150,000, and his preliminary hearing continued to March 12, 2007.
December 5, 2006: In a report by Glenn Puit of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, it is revealed that police had Anthony Gross pose as a corpse and be photographed in the trunk of a car. Detectives planned to show the photos to Titus as evidence that a hit man had killed Gross, which they apparently hoped would lead to an admission Titus was involved in a murder-for-hire plot. The odd ploy does not work, and Titus maintains his innocence.
December 8, 2006: Titus releases a letter alleging he was mistreated multiple times by the jail staff, writing, "I'm very scared right now." Video screen shots from jail security cameras are later released, showing a situation where Titus was handcuffed, strapped to a chair, blindfolded and extracted from his cell during a November high-security escape investigation at the jailhouse.
December 24, 2006: Titus attorney Marc Saggese files a motion to remove Judge Jackie Glass from the trial for engaging in a prohibited conversation with a prosecutor and another attorney about the case.
December 29, 2006: The motion to remove Judge Glass from Titus and Ryan's trial is denied.
January 2, 2007: An article appears in the Las Vegas Tribune, alleging wrongdoing on the part of officials at the Clark County Detention Center. The paper cites Titus' treatment in the expose.
January 8, 2007: A book, "Fire In The Desert: The True Story of the Craig Titus-Kelly Ryan Murder Mystery," is released. The author is Glenn Puit, a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
February 23, 2007: At a pre-trial hearing, Ryan announces she has fired attorney Greg Denue, and is replacing him with a law partner of Titus' defense attorney. Her new lawyer, Michael Cristalli, announce that Titus and Ryan signed a "joint defense agreement" (i.e. they would pursue the same line of defense at trial) later, Judge Glass would deny Ryan's request to hire Cristalli.
March 26, 2007: A pre-trial hearing for Titus and Ryan is set for May 29, 2007, and a trial date set for June 4, 2007 (the date is vacated the next day, and the case continued).
April 7, 2007: Contradictory statements emerge during a hearing for Nelson Brady, putting police accusations that Titus was aware of the murder-for-hire plot involving three witnesses in his case in doubt.
April 8, 2007: Trial date for Nelson Brady pushed from April 9 to October 29, 2007.
May 3, 2007: Trial setting for Titus and Ryan continued to May 17, 2007, pending a ruling on Ryan's request for a lawyer change from the Nevada Supreme Court.
May 15, 2007: Trial setting pushed to June 21, 2007 by Judge Jackie Glass, as the Supreme Court ruling remains unresolved. It would be rescheduled again multiple times.
August 6, 2007: In an interview with NBC News 3 Las Vegas, Nelson Brady says he is innocent of trying to hire a hit man to kill three witnesses in the Titus investigation, and is a pawn being used by prosecutors to get a conviction against Titus.
August 28, 2007: Another book on the case, "Killer Bodies: A Glamorous Bodybuilding Couple, A Love Triangle, and a Brutal Murder," by Michael Fleeman, an associate bureau chief for People magazine, is released.
October 11, 2007: Nevada Supreme Court rules Ryan can select attorney Michael Cristalli to represent her; thus, the same law firm will represent both Titus and Ryan.
October 23, 2007: New trial date of June 2, 2008, set for Titus and Ryan; Gross trial setting now set for July 24, 2008.
February 1, 2008: Titus, Ryan and Gross are notified that the parents of victim Melissa James, Maura and Dennis James, have filed a wrongful death civil case against them, seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the death of their daughter.
February 5, 2008: At trial, Nelson Brady found guilty of three counts of solicitation to commit murder.
April 17, 2008: A number of pretrial motions were heard by Judge Glass in the Titus and Ryan case.
May 27, 2008: Titus and Ryan appear before Judge Glass in another pretrial hearing.
May 30, 2008: Titus and Ryan plead guilty, avoiding their trial which was to begin June 4. Titus pleads guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and arson in the death of Melissa James. Ryan pleads guilty arson and battery with a deadly weapon with significant bodily harm. Sentencing set for July 18, where Titus faces 17-55 years in prison, while Ryan faces 2-15 years on each charge. Each has served two-and-a-half years in prison thus far.