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Jury to continue deliberations in Phillips murder trial


After deliberating for part of three hours Tuesday, a Jefferson County Circuit Court jury was sent home and told to come back Wednesday morning for more deliberations.

The jury of 10 women and two men, with two alternates, was seated Monday afternoon in the capital murder trial of Lester Phillips, 32, who is charged with the shooting death of Leroy Collins Jr., 35, on the parking lot of an apartment complex at 1320 S. Maple St. on June 12, 2012.

Phillips has pleaded innocent.

After first deliberating for about an hour, the jury sent a note to Circuit Judge Berlin Jones telling him it was split, and asking what would happen if the jury was hung.

Responding to that question, Jones read an additional jury instruction and sent the jury back to deliberations. Thirty minutes later, jurors sent the judge another note asking for a copy of the testimony of Tony Martin and Alvin Glover, both of whom testified Monday that they saw Phillips shoot Collins.

Since no transcripts were immediately available, speakers were brought into the courtroom and the jury heard a recording of Martin’s testimony but decided against listening to Glover’s testimony before resuming deliberations.

Phillips is serving a prison sentence on a parole violation after previous convictions beginning in 1998 for crimes including aggravated robbery, kidnapping, theft of property and second-degree battery.

Testifying in his own defense, Phillips told his defense attorney John Cone that he began selling drugs to make money after being released from prison in late 2011 or early 2012.

On the day of the shooting, Phillips said, his brother, Kenneth Grisby, called Martin and asked if Martin knew someone who could find drugs for them. Phillips said Martin identified Collins as the person who could find drugs.

Phillips said he gave Martin and Collins $850 — half belonging to himself and the other half to Grisby — and told them to buy crack cocaine. While Martin and Collins were gone, Phillips said, he waited at Collins’ residence on East Barraque Street.

“I knew Collins had a gun under his T -shirt and I felt safer staying at the house than riding around with him,” Phillips said.

Later, Collins called his residence and, according to testimony from Collins’ wife and others Monday, said he had been robbed of the money.

“I was angry about the fact he said he got robbed,” Phillips said. “I wasn’t convinced that was what happened.”

Martin testified Monday that he drove Collins to the apartment complex on Maple Street where Grisby lived. Martin said he then went to pick up Phillips and when he returned to the apartment complex, he saw Grisby and Collins in an argument along with several other people before Phillips shot Collins.

Phillips testified Tuesday that he didn’t shoot Collins and doesn’t know who did.

“I heard the shot and I ran and got in the car with Glover,” Phillips said in his testimony. “I wasn’t looking in that direction and I don’t know who fired the shot.”

Phillips also said that although he upset about losing his money, he wasn’t angry.

“When you sell drugs, the money is always going to come back,” he said.

After the shooting, Phillips was driven across town by Glover, then went to Hot Springs where he stayed for about two weeks before being arrested and brought back to Pine Bluff — something Deputy Prosecutor Cymber Gieringer hammered on during cross-examination.

“What was your long-term plan?” Gieringer asked Phillips, who said his plan was “to try and find out what was going on.”

Phillips also testified that after Collins was shot, everybody on the parking lot ran, including him.

“It seems like there was one person who was so worried that they left town and that was you,” Gieringer said.

She also questioned Phillips about his version of the story, compared with that of Martin and Glover.

“Was Martin mistaken in his testimony?” Gieringer asked.

“From what I heard, he was mistaken,” Phillips said.

“Did you see Collins with a gun out?” she asked.

“No,” Phillips said.

“Did you see anyone else with a gun?” Gieringer asked and again Phillips said “no.”

Earlier Tuesday, Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Erickson testified that Collins’ death was the result of a gunshot wound to the head and that the bullet was still in his body when it was examined.

“At the time the gun went off, the barrel was very close to the head and there was stippling around the wound to the right temple,” Erickson said.

Erickson also told Deputy Prosecutor Rik Ramsey that the bullet wound resulted in major injuries to the brain, and while death might not have been immediate, no recovery would have been possible.

Regarding that bullet, Steve Hargis, a firearms and toolmarks examiner at the Crime Lab, testified that he compared the fragment to bullets fired from four guns that were recovered during the investigation and none of those was a match.

Questioned by Cone, Hargis said he could not determine the caliber of the bullet because of the damage, but based on the weight, it appeared to have been fired from a .38-caliber, .38-special, or .357-caliber weapon.

Police did not recover the murder weapon.

If convicted of capital murder, Phillips would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.