OKANOGAN – Brent Phillips testified in the murder trial for Tansy Mathis and David Richards on Monday, April 12, the second day of testimony in the trial, which began on Tuesday, April 6 with the selection of the jury, which heard opening statements on Friday, April 9.
Phillips’ testimony began with Prosecuting Attorney Karl Sloan asking him questions about how he met Richards and Mathis. Phillips said he lived with Richards for two months, since that was where his current girlfriend was living, in early 2009. He met Mathis through Richards, since she was Richards’ “supplier.” Richards is an admitted drug dealer of methamphetamine, a drug which Phillips has admitted to being a heavy user of. Phillips said he was Richards’ “tax man,” meaning he was sent to rough people up when they owed Richards money and that he was often paid in meth.
In late February 2009, Phillips said he was asked to tax someone who he was told was a “snitch,” someone who has given the police information about people in the drug world. When Phillips was originally arrested in March 2009, he made statements to police that Richards traveled with him and Mathis to the home of Michelle Kitterman and that Richards was the one who had killed Kitterman. During his testimony, he admitted to lying in those earlier statements, saying he was angry with Richards for giving his name to police. He now says Richards was not involved in the trip, the murder of Kitterman or the disposal of evidence afterward.
Phillips’ testimony comes as part of a plea bargain he made with the State of Washington last month. In exchange for his testimony and for pleading guilty to premeditated murder in the first degree, manslaughter of a quick child in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree and tampering with physical evidence, Phillips’ maximum possible sentence of life in prison has been lowered to 26 years.
Phillips said that Richards was supposed to go on the trip with him and Mathis, but he wouldn’t wake up the morning of the trip, so they left without him. He said that before they left, Mathis had Phillips’ file with a handle, which resembles an ice-pick. Although Phillips said Mathis wanted him to return the file to Richards, when Phillips told her Richards was not home, she brought the ice-pick with them on their trip to Okanogan County from Spokane. Mathis picked up Phillips in a rented midnight blue SUV, Phillips said, telling him only that a friend of hers had rented it for her. He said Mathis would not tell him the friend’s name.
When they reached Kitterman’s home, Phillips said Mathis told him this was where the snitch lived and there could be a lot more money than $1,000 to rough the snitch up. He said Mathis told him there could up be to $10,000 to kill the snitch and another $5,000 to “take care” of anyone who got in the way. He said he understood the intent of the trip was a physical assault but he had discussions with Mathis about what would happen if it got out of control and he took that to mean killing.
Phillips said Mathis did not want Kitterman to know she was the drug dealer, so she had him provide Kitterman with meth when they entered her home. After doing meth together, Phillips said he and Mathis asked Kitterman if she wanted to go to the casino with them. Kitterman decided to go with them to the casino and she sat in the back of the SUV to give Mathis, who was driving, directions, Phillips said.
“We started driving toward the casino and then Mathis pulled off to the side because Kitterman wanted to do more meth,” Phillips said. “Mathis said we couldn’t do it in the vehicle because it was a rental.”
When Mathis stopped the car, Phillips said he and Kitterman got out, but Mathis did not. When Phillips checked on Mathis to see what she was doing, he said he saw her digging through her purse and Mathis told him “this is the snitch.” Phillips said he then grabbed Kitterman by her clothing and slammed her against the vehicle. When Mathis told him to “get her off the vehicle” he said he threw Kitterman to the ground still holding onto her clothing and he landed on his knees as Kitterman landed on her back.
Phillips said he choked Kitterman on the ground so that she couldn’t say anything and when he let go of her, she tried to get up, but he started choking her again. Mathis then ran up and got on the ground next to Kitterman, Phillips said.
“It looked like Mathis was punching Kitterman in the stomach, but I saw she was stabbing her with Richards’ file,” Phillips said. “A car was coming so Mathis got up to turn the lights off. I let go of Kitterman, who started screaming, and Mathis said ‘finish it’ and I asked her ‘how?’”
Mathis then brought the file back to Phillips, he said, and he stabbed Kitterman. When she tried to roll away, Phillips said he stabbed her in the back. He said he remembers stabbing her five or six times. He said he stabbed her through her clothing and that no one tried to remove any of Kitterman’s clothing. Phillips said the file broke in half after he stabbed Kitterman in the neck with it and that, holding onto the handle, he flung the file into the ravine.
From the scene of the crime, on Stalder Road south of Tonasket off of North Pine Creek Road, Phillips said they traveled to Republic to stay at the home of a man named Brian. Mathis left Phillips there after her boyfriend Steve arrived and when they came back, Phillips said he saw Steve cleaning the inside of the SUV, wiping down the windows and vacuuming the carpet. He said Mathis and Steve then left Brian’s house again and when they came back, they were driving Mathis’ minivan.
After Sloan finished questioning Phillips, Mathis’ defense attorney, Steven Graham, began questioning him. Graham asked Phillips questions about whether he lied about Richards’ involvement in this crime and Phillips again admitted to lying. Graham then asked Phillips if he felt bad for killing Kitterman and he said he did but at the time, he didn’t feel anything. Phillips said he does not consider himself an honest person.
Graham asked Phillips about what meth does to him and Phillips said it made him want to have sex all the time and that it made it so he could do it for a long time.
“The truth is, you wanted the car to go to a secluded location to have sexual intercourse with Kitterman,” Graham said but Philips denied this.
During Graham’s opening statements on April 9 he said that Mathis had only wanted to buy Kitterman off so she would stop having an affair with Daniel Pavek because Mathis was friends with Pavek’s wife, Lacey Hirst-Pavek, and that Phillips had tried to rape Kitterman and then had killed her in a rage. Graham said Mathis did not turn in Phillips because she was terrified of him and that Phillips had been attracted to Mathis as well.
Graham then mentioned that Phillips had told the court he tried to blame everything on Richards because he was mad at Richards and he asked if Philips was now mad at Mathis, and that was why he was trying to place blame on her. Phillips denied this as well. Graham went through Phillips’ previous statements to police, asking him about lies he has now admitted to making: such as that Richards’ file was actually an ice-pick, that Richards had been the one to stab and kill Kitterman, that Mathis and Richards had carried Kitterman’s body off when it was Phillips and Mathis, according to Phillips’ testimony that day.
Anthony Frey, Richards’ defense attorney, then took over the questioning. He asked Phillips if he had
previously tried to blame Richards by saying he murdered Kitterman when Phillips has now admitted to killing her and Phillips said “yes” and stated that it was correct that he provided details about the car Richards had supposedly driven and his involvement in the crime when he was trying to blame him for the crime. Frey asked Phillips if he did this because he was mad at Richards for giving out his name to the police and Phillips again said “yes.” He then went through Phillips statement from March 30, 2009, pointing out the lies Phillips had said and Phillips admitted to them.
“Richards wasn’t there,” Frey said. “He didn’t stab anyone or kill anyone, did he?”
“No,” Phillips said.
Frey then brought up that Phillips had said these lies in a false statement but in that statement he offered to testify in trial with them and Phillips said he was correct. Phillips said he was trying to minimize his involvement in the crime.
Sloan then re-questioned Phillips and Phillips said he was no longer trying to minimize his involvement.
This trial is expected to last several more weeks. Once this trial is complete, the trial of Hirst-Pavek, who is accused of arranging the killing, will begin.