Murder suspect found not competent for trial

On Friday, for the second time, John Phillips was declared incompetent to stand trial for the murder of Debra Gordon. He is accused of shooting the woman — whose family lives in South Kitsap — in the head three years ago while she slept in the Bremerton apartment they shared with her son.

Phillips’ attorney Tim Kelly told Kitsap Superior Court Judge Leila Mills he was not surprised that both the doctor at Western State Hospital — where Phillips, 89, has been confined since 2001 — and the doctor hired by the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office declared his client unfit.

“He is even less competent than he was three years ago,” Kelly said, explaining that Phillips was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease back in 2001, and both disorders could only have been expected to worsen.

Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office Case Manager Chris Casad said since the hospital announced in January it planned to release Phillips, his office felt that was an indication the defendant may have improved.

“It is an unfortunate situation we are in,” Casad said.

A new evaluation of Phillips’ competency was ordered after the defendant was re-arrested in February. Kitsap County Prosecutors dropped the original second-degree murder charge in June of 2001 after Phillips was found incompetent, but re-filed it last month after learning that the hospital planned to release the defendant soon to live with his daughter in Illinois, where Washington state orders requiring him to undergo medical treatment could not be enforced.

On Friday, Casad asked Judge Mills to order that Phillips be returned to the hospital.

“While it might not seem satisfactory to your honor, it appears it is the only option,” Casad said. “My position is that it is appropriate to order him back to the custody of Western State for up to 90 days to see if competency can be restored.”

Kelly countered by arguing for an immediate dismissal of the murder charge against his client, calling the prosecutors’ refiling a “manipulation of the criminal justice system.”

“Without any disrespect to the Gordon family, I feel this is a misuse of the court to keep Mr. Phillips in custody,” Kelly said. “He is not competent to stand trial, and the choice is to have him committed civilly or be eligible for release. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality. That’s the only place he has to go.”

Kelly requested that Judge Mills deny the state’s motion to return Phillips to Western State and instead order an immediate hearing to dismiss the criminal charges against him and allow the state to consider a civil commitment.

“It is likely he will never be found competent,” Kelly said. “With his organic brain defects, he’s not going to get any better, and to stand here and ask that is intellectually dishonest of this court.”

Judge Mills said she was not prepared to make a ruling on Friday.

“This is not a typical scenario, with a very involved and complicated history,” she said. “It needs more than 10 minutes to be considered.”

Judge Mills scheduled a longer hearing for Monday, April 12, at 9 a.m., giving both sides ample time to file briefs stating their positions.

Linda Sloan, the stepmother of Debra Gordon, said she was pleased with Mills’ decision Friday.

“Thank God she didn’t rubber stamp it,” she said, explaining that although she and the rest of Gordon’s family would like Phillips to face a jury for his alleged crime, they would settle for him being confined to Western State.

“We don’t care where he serves the time, whether it’s in jail or in the hospital,” she said.

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