Jury: Phillips didn’t intend to kill landlord

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | APRIL 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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After roughly 10 hours of deliberation, a Johnson County jury decided Gregory Phillips hadn’t intended to kill his landlord.

Phillips, 57, was originally charged with attempted murder and going armed with intent after he allegedly put a gun to Mezher Beig’s mouth at Dolphin Lakes Enclave Apartments on Sept. 4, 2008.

On Thursday, a jury of eight women and four men found him guilty of assault with intent to inflict serious injury and going armed with intent — a verdict with which prosecuting attorney Anne Lahey said Beig would be disappointed.

“He’s understandably very afraid of the defendant — deathly afraid,” she said. “I guess it’s because he, more than anyone else, would know what he’s capable of. I’m sure he’s going to be upset the lesser charges were found.”

However, acknowledging the difficulty of obtaining an attempted-murder conviction, Lahey said she was satisfied with the result.

“I’m happy,” Lahey said to colleagues after 6th District Judge Nancy Baumgartner dismissed the jury. “I know the jury worked really hard and long, and it was obviously very tough, so we’re pleased.”

Phillips originally faced up to 30 years in prison — with a Class B felony charge for attempted murder carrying up to 25 years.

Now, his sentence could be up to seven years. Assault with intent to inflict serious injury is an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of $6,250. Going armed with intent is a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $7,500.

On Monday, Beig testified that Phillips threatened to kill him, put a gun to his mouth, and pulled the trigger, resulting in a click.

The gun didn’t fire, but Lahey told the jury in closing arguments her client said he felt he could have had his head “blown off.”

During deliberation, the jury also requested to review a tape of Phillips’ interview with police the night he was arrested, where he admitted to drinking 16 to 18 beers the night of the alleged incident.

Defense attorney Victoria Cole argued her client did not intend to kill Beig when he entered his office more than two years ago, and Phillips told the jury he only wanted to threaten him.

“If I say something, I’m going to do it,” Phillips testified Tuesday.

As Baumgartner read the verdict, Phillips sat in his chair expressionless, staring down at the wooden table before him.

“Obviously, it was a relief that it wasn’t attempted murder,” Cole said. “Now it’s time to decide post-trial motions and await the sentence.”

Cole declined to comment on Phillips’ behalf and said it was too early to determine whether she would challenge the verdict or file any motions with the judge.

After the verdict, she asked the judge to release Phillips from jail until sentencing — he has been incarcerated awaiting trial since the day of the incident over two years ago — but the judge declined to address any further motions Thursday.

A sentencing hearing has not been set, and Lahey said another hearing will most likely be scheduled before the sentencing to discuss Phillips’ condition of release.

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