Accused murderer ordered back to hospital

The family of John Phillips’ alleged victim, Debra Gordon, did not sound relieved Friday when Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Russell W. Hartman ordered the 89-year-old accused murderer back to Western State Hospital for two more months.

They just sounded tired.

“I want a resolution,” said Mike Sloan, Gordon’s brother. Sloan was at the courthouse with his father, Gordon Sloan of Port Orchard, during one of dozens of trips the two men have made since the 45-year-old woman was shot while she slept in the Bremerton apartment she had shared for 12 years with Phillips.

To the Sloans — including the victim’s stepmother, Linda — Friday’s ruling is simply another in a long line of orders that have confined Phillips to the hospital for one 90-day confinement after another since he was first declared incompetent to stand trial in 2001.

But as far as Linda Sloan is concerned, even if Phillips never faces a jury, she’d rather he stay in the hospital than be released, which Western State had planned to do in February.

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

A new evaluation of Phillips’ competency was ordered in February when the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office refiled the second-degree murder charge against him after it learned he was about to be released to the custody of his daughter in Illinois, where Washington state orders requiring him to undergo medical treatment could not be enforced.

In March, both doctors — one retained by the prosecution and another at Western State Hospital — who examined Phillips declared him incompetent and still suffering from degenerative dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

At that time, Deputy Prosecutor Chris Casad asked the court — first Judge Leila Mills, then Judge Hartman — to follow the corresponding state statute, which dictates that a defendant found incompetent be reconfined for up to 90 days to see if competency can be restored.

“While it might not seem satisfactory to your honor, it appears it is the only option,” Casad argued at the time.

Defense attorney Tim 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.”

Kelly requested that Hartman 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.”

However, Hartman said Friday that it was “the court’s responsibility to submit Mr. Phillips to Western State for the 90 days,” and said he did not feel it was unreasonable for the state to refile charges against the defendant, after dropping them in 2001.

“It was perfectly appropriate and within the state’s authority,” Hartman said.

“This is a difficult problem,” the judge continued, explaining he was mindful of the fact that the latest evaluations of Phillips determined the defendant was not only incompetent, but “unlikely ever to be restored to competency.” However, he said the defense’s argument to release Phillips had not offered any compelling reasons for not following the statute.

“The defense’s argument doesn’t contain any authority, it just says it’s not fair,” he said, adding that the defense could represent its argument — including whether the prosecution should be allowed an unlimited number of confinement periods — at any time.

Since the latest evaluation of Phillips was completed on March 16, Hartman set the beginning of the 90-day period to be March 20.

He scheduled Phillips’ next hearing in Kitsap County Superior Court for June 18.

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