Officer who found dead girl testifies in murder trial

Richmond Phillips did not immediately answer or return his wife’s nearly 40 phone calls in the early morning hours of May 31, his wife testified Tuesday. When he finally did, it was only to say he had lost his keys, and then that he was outside their house.

It was in those hours that prosecutors have accused Phillips, a D.C. police officer, of shooting and killing his mistress, 20-year-old Wynetta Wright, outside a Hillcrest Heights community center and throwing her body in the woods.

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He then drove their 11-month-old daughter, Jaylin, to an apartment complex parking lot and leaving her in a hot SUV to die, prosecutors have said.

On the second day of his trial on first-degree murder and related charges, Richmond Phillips’s wife Rhonda testified for the prosecution, contradicting things her husband had told investigators and calling his behavior the day of the killings was concerning and unusual.

Though Rhonda Phillips acknowledged that it was not unusual for her husband’s job to keep him out late, she expected him to come home before about 6:30 a.m. on May 31. When he was not home after 2 a.m., Rhonda Phillips said, she grew concerned and called her husband between 34 and 40 times.

“He responded one time and said he had lost his keys, and that was it,” Rhonda Phillips said. She said she told him to come home because she was awake, and when he did, he called again from outside the house.

Rhonda Phillips was hardly an enthusiastic witness, muttering profanities under her breath as she left the courtroom. Her testimony also supported some of defense attorneys’ version of what happened: She said she and her husband took their daughter to school together after he arrived home.

But Rhonda Phillips also testified that her husband initially lied about the paternity suit Wynetta Wright was pursuing against him, saying he told her it was “work-related.”

She said that even when she went online and discovered the truth, “he just told me he was sorry.”

And she said Richmond Phillips never acknowledged the baby was his, though a paternity test would prove it was. That contradicts what Richmond Phillips himself told investigators in an interview after Wynetta Wright went missing, an interview in which he lied about the last time he spoke to Wright.

Prosecutors have said Wright’s lawsuit — and the prospect of having to pay child support — is what motivated Richmond Phillips to kill Wright and his own daughter.

Earlier on Tuesday, Prince George’s County Police Cpl. Joey Torres testified about the circumstances under which he young Jaylin after having watched Wright’s green Saturn Vue from across an apartment complex’s parking lot for hours, not knowing an 11-month-old girl was dead inside.

When he finally went to inspect it, the officer testified Tuesday, he thought someone had played a morbid joke by placing a baby doll in a carseat in the back.

Torres would soon learn otherwise. Jaylin Wright, prosecutors said, had been left by her own father to “cook” in a parking lot off Southern Avenue, after the father had shot and killed Wynetta Wright.

Phillips faces two charges of first-degree murder and other related counts in the May 2011 slayings. On Tuesday, Torres told jurors how he put his hand to the vehicle’s window as he realized the baby was not, in fact, a doll.

“There was blood coming from the baby’s nose,” Torres said, pausing for several seconds as his voice choked up.

His tearful remarks heightened the mood of an already emotional trial. As they did on Monday, friends and family of Jaylin and Wynetta filled one side of a Prince George’s County Circuit Courtroom. Many left periodically to cry.

Prosecutors have said Richmond Phillips met Wynetta Wright outside a community center in Hillcrest Heights late on May 30, the day before he was to submit a DNA sample to determine whether he was Jaylin’s father.

The two talked for hours, prosecutors have said, and Phillips eventually shot Wynetta Wright in the head and dumped her body in the woods. He then drove Wynetta Wright’s car to a nearby apartment complex, leaving young Jaylin inside, prosecutors have said.

Defense attorneys have acknowledged Phillips met Wright, his mistress, at the community center, but said he left hours before she was killed to take another daughter to school.

Torres and several other police officers testified Tuesday about the circumstances under which Jaylin was found after an investigation into Wynetta Wright’s disappearance led them to her car in the parking lot of the apartment complex off Southern Avenue. Torres and others testified that police placed a GPS tracker on the car, not realizing a baby was inside, then watched from a distance for several hours.

Soon, though, other officers found the body of Wynetta Wright in the woods behind the community, and police moved to more thoroughly look at her Saturn Vue, Torres testified. That’s when they found Jaylin.

The trial is expected to last through the week.

 
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