Defense witness in Phillips' trial says he lied to cops to 'get leverage'

2014-03-12T10:00:00Z Defense witness in Phillips' trial says he lied to cops to 'get leverage'Patrick McNamara Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A witness for the defense in the first-degree murder trial of former Tucsonan Pamela Phillips has proven to be less than co-operative.

Jeffrey Morris was called to testify to help the defense build its case for an alternative theory of the 1996 car bombing that left Phillips' former husband, Gary Triano, dead.

Triano died when the bomb, left on the seat of his car at La Paloma in November 1996, exploded. Police and prosecutors accuse Phillips of paying a man $400,000 to kill Triano so that she could reap the benefit of a $2 million life insurance policy.

The man police say Phillips conspired with, Ronald Young, was convicted of the murder in 2010.

In testimony on Tuesday, Morris repeatedly said he did not remember statements he made to police investigators, FBI agents or an investigator for the the defense team.

Morris, who spent decades in prisons in Washington and Idaho, once claimed to have knowledge of a bombing that occurred in Tucson around the time of Triano's death.

At one point during his testimony, defense attorney Paul Eckerstom questioned Morris about an affidavit he signed for the defense in 2012 in which he said he spoke to someone in the months following the bombing about possibly traveling to Switzerland to help pick up payment for a contract killing committed in Tucson. The affidavit, based on a defense investigator's interview with Morris, described the killing as a bombing at a Tucson resort in 1996.

Morris, however, cast doubt on the accuracy of his own statements.

"Are you asking me what's in the affidavit or what's true?" he said in response to Eckerstrom's questions.

"You swore to it," Eckerstrom said.

To that, Morris replied: "Well, I signed it."

The prosecution was allowed to interject during an objection and asked Morris about statements he made to law enforcement similar to those given in the affidavit.

"Was it a true story," Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay said.

Morris replied: "No."

He continued, saying he had told the story to law enforcement in an effort to "get leverage" in a pending case.

Morris takes the stand again today to face cross-examination.

Read more about the Phillips' trial here.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at 573-4241 or pmcnamara@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @pm929.

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