A Central Point man was sentenced to prison Tuesday for shooting his wife — with the defense saying mental illness contributed to the crime but the prosecution arguing methamphetamine-induced paranoia led to the killing.
Wade Eugene Phillips, 46, was sentenced to 15 years and eight months in prison after entering guilty pleas in late September to first-degree manslaughter and three counts of unlawful use of a weapon.
Wade Phillips killed Cynthia Michelle Phillips, 37, and fired shots at other family members the morning of Nov. 11, 2015, at their rental home in the 6500 block of Truax Road in Central Point.
Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert said Wade Phillips was a long-haul trucker who had been using meth on and off for years. When he was on meth, he would become sleep-deprived, paranoid, and believe people and the government were watching him and trying to poison him.
For several days before the shooting, Heckert said, Wade Phillips had used meth multiple times each day.
On the day of the shooting, Wade Phillips said he was going to go outside with his gun to get people he thought were there, Heckert said. He pointed the gun at a pregnant 18-year-old, who was the daughter of his ex-wife.
When Cynthia Phillips intervened, he pointed the gun at her head. Investigators believe she moved the gun away, but he then pointed the gun at her stomach. She reached for the gun and he shot her in the stomach, Heckert said.
Wade Phillips' stepdaughter, who was 12 at the time, was in the kitchen, and he fired the gun in her direction, with the bullet striking near the ceiling. She ran out the front door to neighbors for help, according to Heckert.
Family members said the girl had already suffered the loss of her biological father, and Wade Phillips had just shot her mother.
"Her biological father was killed in a logging accident. Now her mother's gone, and she's a complete orphan," said Richard Hart, Cynthia Phillips' father.
The 18-year-old girl ran out a back door toward the garage with her boyfriend at the time, and Cynthia and Wade Phillips' 5-year-old biological daughter. After they fled through the door and shut it, Wade Phillips fired into the door. They also ran to neighbors for help, Heckert said.
The Jackson County Sheriff's Office received numerous 911 calls about shots fired at the home, Heckert said.
When law enforcement arrived, they found a six-shot revolver on the bed in the master bedroom with three fired casings, two cartridges that hadn't been fired and one empty chamber. At first, they were unable to find Wade Phillips, Heckert said.
Officers heard a noise and located Wade Phillips that afternoon in a crawl space above the house, where he had hidden and fallen asleep, Heckert said.
Heckert said Wade Phillips was sent to the Oregon State Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, but was found not to be insane.
If he had been successful in pursuing a guilty-except-for-insanity defense, he could have been sent to an Oregon psychiatric hospital for treatment and eventual release, rather than receiving a prison sentence.
Heckert said meth-induced paranoia and delusions wane after a person stops using the drug. She said Wade Phillips could have gotten out of psychiatric custody fairly quickly.
"My concern is that there wouldn't have been much of a consequence," she said. "When people are not using, the mental illness clears up."
Although insanity defenses for meth users are sometimes tried in the courts, defendants are usually considered legally culpable because they voluntarily took the drug. The situation is similar to people who drink and then drive while they are impaired, according to legal experts.
Wade Phillips' paid defense attorneys Jeni Feinberg and Justin Rosas, who are known for taking on high-profile cases, said there's no doubt their client was in a psychotic state at the time of the shooting, but they said he has a long history of delusions.
Feinberg said he continued to suffer from delusions in jail. He thought Feinberg and Rosas were trying to persecute him and believed he was being gassed in jail, she said.
Rosas said Wade Phillips' mind has cleared, but he still has delusions.
Still, Feinberg said Wade Phillips realizes the gravity of what he has done.
"He's horrified by what he did," she said, adding that he is as remorseful as any defendant she's had in 33 years of representing clients.
Speaking to family members gathered in court for the sentencing, Wade Phillips said he loved and missed them all. He said he is sorry every day for what he did, and wishes he could bring Cynthia Phillips back and take her place.
Cynthia Phillips' friend and neighbor Amy Sutterfield painted a different picture of Wade Phillips, saying he was abusive toward his wife and stepdaughter. Sutterfield said Cynthia Phillips wanted to leave because of the way her husband was treating them.
"She had a get-out plan. We just didn't do it soon enough," Sutterfield said.
Sutterfield said Wade Phillips was mean toward his stepdaughter and made ridiculous accusations against his wife.
In a letter read out loud in court that was written by the stepdaughter, she asked Wade Phillips why he had been abusive for so many years, and what she and her mom had done to deserve it. She asked why he had hated them, and why he had killed her mom.
The stepdaughter wrote she had tried to kill herself four times after her mother's death, still has nightmares and wonders if she could have prevented the shooting.
Family members said the shooting tore the family apart, with the children scattered among different living arrangements and unable to grow up together.
Richard and Johni Hart, Cynthia Phillips' father and mother, said the girls continue to suffer post traumatic stress disorder because of the shots Wade Phillips fired. The sound of fireworks and other sudden noises startles them and brings back memories of that day.
"They are like gentlemen coming home from war," said Richard Hart, a Vietnam veteran.
— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.