After spending more than four and a half years claiming that he shot Vernon Rains in self-defense, Phillip Edward Phillips admitted Tuesday afternoon that he murdered Rains on April 22, 1999.
Phillips had been scheduled to stand trial again Wednesday morning, but pleaded guilty Tuesday to an amended charge of murder under extreme emotional disturbance in exchange for prosecutors recommending a 17-year prison sentence.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Stephens said murder under extreme emotional disturbance is what many people think of as a heat of passion kind of crime.
“He was upset, and acted based on that. The law makes allowances for that, and it lessens the punishment a little bit when someone acts out of that kind of heat of passion,” Stephens noted.
Stephens said overall prosecutors are pleased with Phillips total sentence.
The plea agreement calls for Phillips to serve the 17-year murder sentence consecutively or after he serves a nine-year prison sentence he received last January for being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun when he shot Rains.
Between the two sentences, Phillips will be sentenced to serve a total of 26 years in prison.
Stephens said Phillips will be eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of his sentence since murder is considered a violent offense, or about 22 years behind bars.
“He’s receiving a fairly lengthy sentence. We think it is appropriate,” Stephens noted.
In May 2000, a circuit court jury convicted Phillips of murder and possession of a handgun by a convicted felon, but last year, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that Phillips should receive a new trial. The court ruled that the jury considering the murder conviction shouldn’t have heard evidence that Phillips was a convicted felon, and that the charges needed to be tried separately.
During the initial trial, Phillips received a life sentence for murder, and a five-year prison sentence for the handgun possession charge.
Phillips initially lied to police about any involvement in the killing during a statement he gave hours after the killing.
“It’s not my gun. I don’t know anything about a gun,” Phillips told Kentucky State Police Detective Colan Harrell during an interview at the Whitley County Jail. “I swear on my momma’s grave that I didn’t kill anyone.”
During a later police interview on May 16, 2000, Phillips gave another version of events.
During that interview, Phillips claimed that he shot Rains in self-defense after Rains pulled a gun on him, and made a homosexual advance towards him.
Judge Paul Braden scheduled formal sentencing for March 14.
Court officials had planned to house Phillips in the Laurel County Detention Center during his trial, but after the guilty plea was entered Tuesday, Braden ordered Phillips returned to the Kentucky prison at LaGrange.
Phillips lawyer, Barbara Yeager, declined to comment on Phillips plea.
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