Prosecutors with the Pima County Attorney’s Office on Friday rested their case against Pamela Phillips in connection with the car-bomb killing of her ex husband.
In testimony on Thursday and Friday, the original homicide detective with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department detailed how the case developed early on in 1996 when a pipe bomb exploded in Gary Triano’s car in the parking lot of The Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa. As the investigation evolved, Phillips eventually was named as a suspect.
Phillips is accused of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Prosecutors have been building a case to implicate Phillips in a scheme to pay a man named Ronald Young $400,000 to kill Triano following the couple’s contentious divorce. They argue Phillips wanted to cash in a $2 million life insurance policy.
Young was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy in 2010 in connection with Triano’s death.
Former sheriff’s detective Keith St. John, now the lead investigator with the Pima County Attorney’s Office, said Phillips didn’t become a main suspect until years after the killing when Young was arrested in 2005 in Florida on unrelated Colorado fraud charges.
Among the items found with Young was a cache of recordings of telephone conversations he had with Phillips in which the two discuss in cryptic language a schedule of payments she was to make to him.
In one recorded conversation prosecutors played during St. John’s testimony Young alludes to a service he provided Phillips that helped her acquire a large sum of money.
“You asked me for some help, some help so you could get rich,” Young said.
Phillips seemed to act evasive toward Young in the recordings, putting off conversations to later dates and blaming a hectic schedule that prevented her from speaking with him. Young recorded the calls between the two, who had known one another in Aspen, Colo., where Phillips moved after the divorce.
In other conversations, Young pressed Phillips for payments on the principal amount and interest owed on the debt they discussed. He also counseled Phillips on ways to hide their arrangement by not leaving any documents detailing payments she made to him.
The discussion grew heated when Young said he had become suspicious of Phillips and concerned she thought he was blackmailing her.
“Can you just leave me alone?” Phillips said to Young at one point in the recording.
In a later call, Young revealed, at least from the prosecution’s view, the pair’s culpability in the 1996 killing.
“You’re going to be very serious when you sit in a women’s prison for murder,” Young said, repeating the statement before abruptly hanging up the phone.
The defense fought to have the recordings excluded, arguing police had re-recorded the conversations from original formats to discs and enhanced the volume levels.
“We don’t think that they are authentic in that they are not complete conversations,” defense attorney Paul Eckerstrom said.
Eckerstrom argued to Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard Fields that without the complete recordings the defense would be at an unfair disadvantage.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Nicol Green said the recordings were edited only to remove superfluous content such as Young fumbling with the phone numbers and prepaid phone card codes, which took up nearly 20 minutes of one recording.
“Everything Mr. Eckerstrom complained about has nothing to do with content,” Green said. She said the defense team’s arguments against the tapes were a matter of the weight of the content and not the admissibility of the evidence.
The defense also argued that any references to payments Phillips made to Young were the result of a prior business relationship the two had and not payoff for killing Triano.
They have argued that Phillips and Young spoke in coded language and devised surreptitious ways to transfer money because Young was wanted on fraud charges and needed to evade detection.
The defense will have its opportunity to make its case in the coming weeks as Phillips’ attorneys plan to question nearly 100 witnesses.
The trial continues Tuesday and likely could run well into April.