Phillips — now 89 — due back in court

An elderly man accused of shooting his roommate in the head three years ago while she slept in their Bremerton apartment is due back in court Friday morning to determine if he is now competent to stand trial for her murder.

Western State Hospital was expected to complete a psychological evaluation on John Phillips — who turns 89 today — last month. However, when Phillips appeared in Kitsap County Superior Court Feb. 27, his attorney told Judge Leila Mills that hospital staff had not even met with his client yet.

“Obviously, we are very frustrated, your honor,” Public Defender Tim Kelly told Mills, adding that perhaps a court order might ensure an evaluation was completed in 15 days.

However, Mills said she believed the delay was due to a backlog of pending cases.

“I think (Western State Hospital) is waiting until they have the time and resources to complete the evaluation,” she said. “I don’t believe any further order is necessary.”

Until his re-arrest in February, Phillips had been confined to the hospital near Tacoma since 2001 after being declared unfit to stand trial for the murder of 45-year-old Debra Gordon, his roommate of 13 years.

Kitsap County Prosecutors dropped the second-degree murder charge after Phillips was found incompetent, but re-filed it last month after learning that the hospital planned to release the suspect soon to live with his daughter in Illinois, where Washington 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,” Case Manager Chris Casad wrote.

Kelly disagreed that his client 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 am 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 transferred from Kitsap County Jail to the hospital for another competency evaluation, which Casad agreed was warranted.

Kelly went on to say 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.”

Gordon’s parents — father Gordy Sloan and stepmother Linda — 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 syndrome and whom he helped raise.

The family said they also fear if not properly supervised, Gordon could attack someone else 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 Bremerton apartment Phillips and Gordon shared with her son, Phillips showed them the woman’s body and told them he shot her with his 32-caliber revolver. He also claimed he had tried to kill himself, pointing out a gunshot wound to his shoulder.

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

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

“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.”

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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