A Superior Court jury Monday returned a life-without-parole verdict against a 26-year-old Los Angeles man convicted of murder in the death of a Westminster motel manager.
The jury's decision to reject the death verdict sought by prosecutors against Kevin Phillips came after less than a day of deliberation.
"It was a conscientious jury; I respect their decision," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard F. Toohey.
Phillips was convicted in the Feb. 27, 1985, murder of Robert Thompson, manager of a Motel 6, during a robbery, while his wife, Helen, and two young grandchildren looked on.
Helen Thompson bolted from the courtroom during closing arguments in Phillips' trial Monday, after yelling at defense attorneys: "He killed Bob in cold blood, right in front of my eyes."
While Phillips has a long history of crime, including conviction for a major robbery committed with four other people at a Tarzana restaurant just a month before the Thompson murder, his attorneys emphasized the closeness of his family, and Phillips' relationship with his 3-year-old daughter.
"His execution would have a devastating effect on that little girl," Deputy Public Defender Tim B. Severin argued to the jury.
Phillips and another man, still unidentified by the police, entered the Motel 6 late at night and shot Thompson after he resisted. Helen Thompson identified Phillips as the actual shooter. Two months later, an Ontario man was shot during another Motel 6 robbery in which one of two assailants shot the man's dog.
Prosecutors put on evidence at Phillips' trial that the same gun was used in the Ontario shooting. Phillips was already convicted in the robbery of Jo Jo's restaurant in Tarzana. He was identified by several of the robbed patrons as one of three of the bandits who were armed.
Phillips' attorneys emphasized at his penalty phase his difficult family life. He was raised in extreme poverty in Los Angeles. He was sent to the California Youth Authority when he was 17 for robbing a convenience store.
Prosecutor Toohey argued that "no matter how the defense tries to sugarcoat it, this defendant has lived a life of violent conduct."
But defense attorney Severin argued that the death penalty should be reserved for "the Hillside Stranglers and the Night Stalkers." He also argued that Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan both have life sentences which permit eventual parole.
"Can anyone say that life without parole is not a severe punishment for Kevin Phillips," Severin told jurors.
While several people in court were critical of Helen Thompson for her outburst, prosecutor Toohey was sympathetic.
"She has really been very timid about this whole thing, and it must have just built up inside her," Toohey said. "The woman has been through an awful lot."