88-year-old may yet face murder trial

John Phillips looked all of his 88 years as he shuffled slowly toward Judge Jay B. Roof and was ordered several times to “speak up” in Kitsap County Superior Court Wednesday when facing charges once again in connection with the death of his roommate nearly four years ago.

But the parents of his alleged victim, Debra Gordon, who was 45 when Phillips allegedly shot her in the head while she slept in their East Bremerton apartment in 2000, said they were not fooled.

“He’s playing the part,” said Gordon Sloan of Port Orchard, in court with his wife, Linda, and son Michael. “He’s doing his little walk — just like he’s been coached.”

The Sloans said they were relieved and happy Kitsap County prosecutors re-filed the second-degree murder charge dropped in 2001 after Phillips was declared unfit for trial.

“I want him tried,” Michael Sloan said. “I want to see justice done.”

Although the defendant has remained committed to Western State Hospital in Tacoma since being diagnosed with dementia shortly after Gordon’s death, the Sloans contend he was always competent to stand trial.

And if charges were not filed soon, they said, Phillips would have walked out of the hospital without ever facing a jury.

“We don’t understand why if he’s OK to send to Illinois with his daughter, why isn’t he competent to stand trial?” Linda Sloan said.

According to documents filed by Case Manager Chris Casad, the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office renewed its charge against Phillips this week after learning that if the suspect were released to live with his daughter in a suburb of Chicago as the hospital planned to do this month, state orders requiring him to undergo medical treatment could not be enforced.

“The release of a suspected murderer on an unenforceable order requiring mental health treatment is clearly not in the best interest of the citizens of Washington and Illinois,” Casad wrote.

“I’m so proud of the Prosecutor’s Office — they could have just as easily said, “This is just too hard,’ ” Linda Sloan said. “I would have given anything to have seen the deputies put the cuffs on him. I’m sure he thought he was just going to the airport.”

Public Defender Tim Kelly, who represented Phillips in court Wednesday, disagreed that the defendant posed a threat.

“He is not particularly mobile, and I don’t know if he presents a danger to the community at this time,” Kelly said. “Based on my interview with him this afternoon, I’m not comfortable that he is competent to stand trial at this moment.”

Declining to enter a plea, Kelly instead filed a motion to have Phillips returned to the hospital for another competency evaluation, which Casad agreed was warranted.

Casad said the Prosecutor’s Office was prepared to release the suspect for up to 20 days, and planned to conduct its own evaluation as well.

Kelly also claimed that his client had never presented any problems while confined to the hospital, and that prior to the incident in 2000 when he was 85, Phillips had “no criminal history whatsoever.”

The Sloans objected to Kelly’s description of Phillips, claiming they had been informed of several incidences where the defendant had acted “aggressively toward females” while hospitalized, and that as recently as 2002 Phillips had threatened to return to Kitsap County to take custody of their grandson, who suffers from Down’s syndrome and whom he helped raise.

The family said they also fear if not properly supervised, Gordon could attack someone again like they claim he attacked their daughter.

According to the incident report filed by the Kitsap County Sheriff’s

Department, Phillips called 911 shortly before 8 a.m. on November 15, 2000, to report someone had been shot.

When deputies arrived at the apartment Phillips and Gordon had shared for 13 years with her son, Phillips showed them the woman’s body and told them he shot her. He also claimed he had tried to kill himself, and showed them the gunshot wound to his shoulder.

According to Linda Sloan, the pair had not been getting along lately and argued over grocery receipts that day. She said Phillips had accused Gordon of hiding them and confusing him.

On Nov. 20, 2000, Phillips was charged with second-degree murder.

If released to Illinois, he “will be sent to the same type of situation (as with Debra),” Michael Sloan said. “He will be living with a younger female. He can’t be trusted. Some day he might not take his medication.”

Phillips’ next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 27 at 9 a.m., when Judge Roof will rule on his ability to stand trial. Phillips — who said his name was John Andrews Phillips in court Wednesday while previous court documents list him as having no middle name — has been held under $500,000 bail since he was booked into Kitsap County Jail Tuesday night.

The Sloans said they were hopeful Phillips would finally face a jury, and were willing to accept whatever ruling came from the jurors.

However, they were also preparing themselves for the possibility that Phillips would be declared incompetent again.

“If that happens, we will go back to the books to research the laws, then contact the legislature to get the laws changed,” she said. “This particular case falls through the cracks. Our underlying motive is to make the public aware of what these laws are.”

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