Saturday, September 27, 2003
HUNTSVILLE A Madison County jury's acquittal Thursday of Clint Eugene Phillips in the 1994 slaying of Billie Jean Phillips will make it tough to ever get a conviction in the case, a prosecutor said Friday.
A big part of Clint Phillips' defense in his capital murder trial this week involved casting suspicion on past suspects. But his DNA was under Billie Jean Phillips' fingernails, a fact that will likely stick in people's minds for years.
"The acquittal creates a strong defense to any future prosecution in this case," said Terry Jones, 4th Judicial District prosecuting attorney. "It will be a pretty good defense for the next person to say, 'Clint Phillips did it.'"
That was part of the strategy Clint Phillips' attorney used at trial this week, reminding jurors that Billie Jean Phillips' married lover, Howard "Rusty" Cain Jr., was an initial suspect in her slaying, although he wasn't arrested or charged.
Billie Jean Phillips was found bludgeoned and choked Sept. 3, 1994, in the bedroom of her Alabam home. At the time, Cain was Madison County's deputy prosecuting attorney.
"I'm not saying that Rusty Cain killed Billie Jean Phillips," Huggins said during closing arguments Thursday. "I don't know that. Clint Phillips doesn't know that. But the police have thought that for years."
Over the past nine years, investigators have obtained DNA samples from 18 people and compared them with DNA found under Billie Jean Phillips' fingernails.
Investigators found a scientific match with Clint Phillips last year after he was ordered to provide a blood sample as part of a sexual assault conviction in Madison County.
His DNA was derived from the sample, and it matched DNA found under the slain woman's nails.
Billie Jean Phillips and Clint Phillips are not related.
Clint Phillips had an explanation : He said he had oral sex with Billie Jean Phillips the night of her death, and she scratched his back during the act.
Jones said two of Billie Jean Phillips' nails were ripped from her fingers when she was attacked with her son's T-ball bat on her bed. She fought back long and hard before her killer strangled her on the floor.
Clint Phillips' DNA wasn't under the two nails torn from Billie Jean Phillips' fingers but was present under her other nails, Jones said. If Clint Phillips' DNA was transferred during sex prior to her slaying, why wasn't it on her two avulsed nails, Jones asked at trial.
"The DNA evidence was reinforced over and over [at trial ]," Jones said Friday. "But anytime a person says they've been in physical contact with someone who was killed, that can put into question the meaning of the DNA."
Despite his acquittal, Clint Phillips, 27, of Huntsville isn't a free man.
A federal judge in May sentenced him to serve 18 months in prison for violating federal parole. Phillips was originally convicted in September 2002 of federal counterfeiting charges.
Huggins on Friday said Clint Phillips will have to serve the rest of his federal sentence, minus about a month he's served in the Madison County jail awaiting trial on the murder charge.
"I expect him to be released in August 2004," Huggins said.
In October 2002, Clint Phillips was given a concurrent sentence of 10 years suspended in the Arkansas Department of Correction for sexual assault and six years for possession of methamphetamine with four years suspended, according to Madison County Circuit Court records.
The Post Prison Transfer Board on May 14 approved Clint Phillips' request for release from the Department of Correction on Sept. 5.
Huggins said he believes the Sept. 5 parole date has been finalized.
A Department of Correction spokesman didn't return a call Friday.