Jurors in D.C. officer’s murder trial watch video of his interview with police

January 16, 2013

Richmond Phillips initially told a Prince George’s County detective who claimed to be looking for Phillips’s missing mistress that he had not spoken to her in a year. Confronted with phone records that indicated otherwise, he admitted during that interview that they had traded text messages but said that they had not met.

Confronted again with surveillance footage of them arriving at the same place just days earlier, he acknowledged a late-night rendezvous outside a Hillcrest Heights community center. It was at that meeting in May 2011, prosecutors say, that Phillips, a D.C. police officer, fatally shot Wynetta Wright, 20, hours before he was supposed to appear in court and provide a DNA sample that would go on to prove he was her 11-month-old baby’s father.

He then drove Wright’s sport-utility vehicle to a nearby apartment complex and left their daughter, Jaylin Wright, in the vehicle to die, prosecutors have said.

Phillips is on trial in Prince George’s County Circuit Court this week, facing two counts of first-degree murder and related charges in the deaths. On Wednesday, the third day of the trial, jurors watched more than an hour of footage showing him lying repeatedly about the last hours that anyone saw Wynetta Wright alive.

In an interview with Prince George’s County police homicide detective Benjamin Brown — which occurred after police had found Wynetta and Jaylin Wright’s bodies but before he knew they had — Phillips’s account shifts at least twice. He first says he has not heard from Wynetta Wright in more than a year, but when Brown tells him that police have retrieved the young woman’s phone records, he acknowledges exchanging text messages and trying to arrange a meeting.


This June 3, 2011, file photo, provided by the Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland shows Richmond Phillips, a former District of Columbia police officer charged in the 2011 deaths of his mistress and their infant child. (Uncredited/AP)

Phillips says in the interview that Wynetta Wright skipped that meeting and that he texted her later to say, “I went out there, and I didn’t see you.”

When Brown tells Phillips that both his and Wynetta Wright’s vehicles showed up on a surveillance tape at the Hillcrest Heights community center, Phillips first says, “It wasn’t me,” before acknowledging that the two talked. He says that Wynetta Wright “started getting rowdy” and tried to get him to hold his daughter before they parted ways.

He says that he was supposed to meet her at a nearby McDonald’s a short time later but that the two failed to connect. Brown eventually tells Phillips of the deaths, and the D.C. officer groans and wipes his brow. But as the detective aggressively questions him — suggesting that he might have killed his mistress in self-defense — Phillips repeatedly says he does not know what happened.

Phillips’s attorneys have acknowledged that he lied to detectives, although they have argued that he did so not to cover up a murder, but to hide an affair. They have said Wynetta Wright was probably killed after Phillips parted ways with her, leaving her alone in a dangerous area near the community center.

The interview was shown after jurors learned another detail about Phillips’s life: Wynetta Wright was not his only mistress. Kimberly Everett said Wednesday that she began sleeping with Phillips about February 2010, not knowing he was married.

Everett, who said she was an administrative assistant for the D.C. police, testified that when she was naked with Phillips in a hotel room, she saw a “small caliber” gun, not his police-issued weapon, strapped to his left ankle. Prosecutors think that gun — a .22-caliber — was the one Phillips used to fatally shoot Wynetta Wright, although Everett could not specify the caliber of the weapon she saw.

Everett is the second of Phillips’s lovers to testify for prosecutors. On Tuesday, his wife, Rhonda Phillips, testified that her husband did not immediately answer or return her nearly 40 phone calls in the early morning hours of May 31, when Wynetta and Jaylin Wright were killed. When he finally did, Rhonda Phillips testified, it was only to say that he had lost his keys and that he was outside their house.

Prosecutors are expected to finish their portion of the case tomorrow. Jurors could begin deliberating before the end of the week.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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