89-year-old won’t face murder charge

Although the chance that the man suspected of shooting Debra Gordon four years ago will ever stand trial was just sliced even thinner last week, there is still a possibility the South Kitsap family waiting for some form of justice will get their second choice — civil confinement.

On Friday, the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office for a second time dropped a murder charge against John Phillips, who was accused of shooting Gordon in her sleep in November 2000 in the apartment they shared for 12 years.

Deputy Prosecutor Chris Casad said since the latest evaluation of Phillips by Western State Hospital — where Phillips has been confined since being diagnosed with degenerative dementia — determined the 89-year-old was incompetent to stand trial, his office believed the best course of action would be to dismiss the second-degree murder charge his office refiled against Phillips in January.

“The state could have asked for another 90 days’ confinement,” Casad said, “but that would require some likelihood that the defendant would regain competency, which there was no indication of in the report.”

Although the charges were dropped without prejudice, meaning his office could re-file charges again, Casad said for now Phillips’ case is a civil matter.

“The state asks that the defendant be detained for 72 hours to allow local health authorities to examine him,” Casad said, explaining that once their evaluation is complete they can recommend several options, including a civil confinement period ranging from 14 to 180 days.

“Hopefully, he will be confined to a series of 180 days for the rest of his life,” Casad said.

Phillips’ attorney, Tim Kelly, said he agreed with the prosecution’s recommendation, and Superior Court Judge Russell W. Hartman ordered the evaluation be provided to the court at a hearing July 8.

Friday’s decision was just the latest in long string of hearings and evaluations that have been held regarding Phillips’ future.

Since 2001, Phillips has been confined to Western State for one 90-day period after another until February. County prosecutors re-filed the murder charge after learning 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.

At the seemingly unending hearings, not only has defense attorney Kelly expressed his frustration several times, calling the proceedings a “misuse of the court to keep Mr. Phillips in custody,” but last month Judge Hartman expressed frustration, as well.

“This is civil rights lawsuit waiting to happen,” Hartman said, describing the case as a difficult problem, but declaring, “it was perfectly appropriate and within the state’s authority” to refile the charges.

No one, however, has voiced more frustration than Gordon’s family, the Sloans.

“I want a resolution,” said Mike Sloan, Gordon’s brother. Sloan was at the courthouse Friday with his father, Gordon Sloan of Port Orchard, during one of the dozens of trips the two men have made since the 45-year-old woman was killed.

To the Sloans — including the victim’s stepmother, Linda — Friday’s ruling was just another “trip on the hamster wheel.”

But, as far as Linda 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 early this year.

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

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