More than 17 years after a fiery explosion killed a prominent real estate investor and rocked Tucson, his ex-wife will stand trial for masterminding the murder of Gary Triano.
Jury selection in the trial of Pamela Phillips, who collected $2 million in life insurance after Triano died, is to begin this week in Pima County Superior Court.
Phillips, 56, is accused of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the death of her former husband, who was killed when a pipe bomb exploded in his car after he played a round of golf at La Paloma.
Triano’s public murder on Nov. 1, 1996, was huge news in Tucson. It wasn’t just that a bomb had torn apart Triano’s body and ripped the roof from his car — a method of killing more associated with political assassinations — but Triano was a well-known, some might say infamous, Tucson dealmaker.
He had made millions in Indian gaming ventures and was involved in scores of major real estate and business deals in the region. He had made an unsuccessful run for a Tucson City Council seat.
Along the way, he had accumulated a list of enemies.
At the time of his death, court records showed Triano was or had been a defendant in at least 54 civil cases. Many of those cases accused him of nonpayment to business partners or defaulting on loans.
Arizona Daily Star archives show lenders and former associates of the deceased businessman had filed cases seeking a total of more than $9 million from Triano.
Prosecutors plan to argue that one of Triano’s most vehement enemies was his scorned ex-wife.
Triano and Phillips wed in San Diego in 1986 after a brief romance. By 1993, however, the marriage had deteriorated.
The couple filed numerous restraining orders against each other before finalizing their divorce in November 1993.
The state’s case against Phillips is expected to center on Triano’s $2 million life insurance policy, for which Phillips was the trustee.
The couple had purchased the policy in 1992. Their two children were later named the beneficiaries.
Phillips maintained payments on the policy after the divorce but later handed responsibility of payment of the policy to a friend.
Phillips received the more than $2 million benefit in 1997, months after Triano’s death.
Prosecutors say Phillips paid a man she met in Aspen, Colo., where she moved after the divorce, $400,000 to kill her ex-husband.
That man, Ronald Young, was named a person of interest almost immediately after Triano’s death. A rental car Young abandoned in California the month before Triano’s killing held documentation police said linked him to the crime, including Phillips’ divorce papers and credit report.
Young fled, however, not turning up again until 2005 when he was arrested in Florida.
He was tried for Triano’s death in 2010 and found guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
His attorneys argued Young had learned the details of Triano’s killing from Phillips and used it against her, extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from her.
Correspondences between the two over the years showed numerous squabbles over money Young thought he was owed from Phillips.
Police named Phillips a possible suspect in the case in 2006. She left the country in 2008, living in Europe until she was arrested in Austria in late 2009.
She was charged with Triano’s murder in 2010.
The tale of Triano’s murder drew national attention. His death has been featured on television shows such as “America’s Most Wanted” and “Dateline.”
A nonfiction crime book has been written about the case and Phillips even tried to shop around a movie deal about her life after her arrest.
The long-anticipated trial is expected to last six weeks.