This June 3, 2011, file photo, provided by the Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland shows Richmond Phillips, a former District of Columbia police officer charged in the 2011 deaths of his mistress and their infant child.
A District of Columbia police officer embroiled in a paternity suit
fatally shot his mistress before leaving their infant child to die in an
overheated car, prosecutors said as the officer's murder trial opened
Richmond Phillips committed the crimes because he was facing a paternity
lawsuit and didn't want to pay child support for a baby girl he
fathered out of wedlock, prosecutor Angela Alsobrooks told the jury in
her opening statement. A defense lawyer countered that his client
"didn't do this thing" and there wasn't evidence for a conviction.
Phillips was arrested in June 2011 after police located the bodies of
20-year-old Wynetta Wright and her daughter, Jaylin, in a park outside
Washington. Prosecutors say Phillips shot Wright and then drove the
child — still strapped in the car seat of her mother's car with the
doors closed and the windows up — a short distance away, leaving her to
die in stifling heat. The girl was just days shy of her first birthday.
When Phillips invited Wright to meet him at the park to try to work
things out ahead of a scheduled court date, one of only two things was
going to happen, Alsobrooks told the jury.
"He was either going to talk her out of that paternity suit or he was
going to kill her," said Alsobrooks, the state's attorney in Prince
George's County, Md.
Phillips is charged with first-degree murder, punishable by life in
prison if convicted, along with other crimes. Surveillance video and
phone records connect Phillips to the park where the killing occurred,
DNA evidence links him to the murder, and he lied to investigators about
his relationship with Wright, prosecutors say.
But defense lawyer Brian Denton said his client was innocent and that the case hinged on circumstantial evidence.
He said that although prosecutors have surveillance footage showing
Phillips and Wright talking at Oxon Run Stream Valley Park, the video
does not capture the moment when Wright was killed. He said the DNA
evidence was unreliable and that many people, not just his client and
Wright, would have had access to a park where cigarette butts, alcohol
bottles and condoms are commonly found.
"They're suggesting that no one else would have been in that park on a warm summer night," Denton said of the authorities.
Phillips met Wright at a nightclub while off-duty and their relationship
soon turned sexual. But Phillips, who was already married with another
child, ended contact with her after learning that she was pregnant, the
jury heard. Wright served Phillips with a paternity suit early in 2011
and a subsequent test confirmed that he was the father of her child.
The two got back in touch as Phillips faced the prospect of a paternity
test. He invited Wright to meet her at the park on the eve of a
scheduled court date in their paternity case, and Wright was excited to
bring Jaylin so that she could see her father, Alsobrooks said.
The two spoke for hours, but the encounter turned deadly when Phillips
shot Wright and moved her vehicle with the child still inside. A heat
advisory was in effect at the time, and temperatures inside the car
reached 125 degrees, Alsobrooks added.
"He allowed her to essentially cook in that car, hoping and praying that
she would never be found," said the prosecutor, referring to Phillips
as a "deceptive, double-sided man."
The first witness, Wright's cousin, Donna Leggett, testified that she
had helped Wright with the baby's care and that she suggested that
Wright approach Phillips about providing his share of financial support.
"I told her she (needed) to stop stressing and take the father up for child support," she said.
The courtroom in Prince George's County Circuit Court was crowded with
Wright's family and supporters, many of whom dabbed their eyes and wept
Phillips, who was assigned to a vice squad, has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the case, police said.
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