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Girl Faces Murder Charges as an Adult

June 15, 2001|DAVID HERMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN BERNARDINO — The case of a 16-year-old girl accused of torturing and beating an elderly woman to death last July will return to adult court, a San Bernardino Juvenile Court judge ruled Thursday.

"She has no compassion, no empathy, no morality or decency," Judge John P. Wade said, explaining why he determined that Christy Phillips, who was 15 at the time of the crime, is unfit to be tried in Juvenile Court.

Wade found that the heinous nature of the crime and the limited time the juvenile justice system would have to rehabilitate Phillips warranted trial in adult court.

Phillips' case will return to San Bernardino County Superior Court in Fontana on Monday, 11 months after she was arraigned there as an adult.

On March 13, Judge Douglas Elwell announced that he no longer had jurisdiction over the case, citing a February state Court of Appeal ruling that invalidated a state law allowing prosecutors--not Juvenile Court judges--to decide whether 14-to-18-year-olds accused of serious crimes should be tried as adults.

The San Bernardino County district attorney's office had used the law to file murder and torture charges against Phillips without a fitness hearing before a Juvenile Court judge, a move no longer legal after the Court of Appeal decision.

If she is convicted as an adult, Phillips could face a sentence of 32 years to life in prison. If tried and convicted as a juvenile, Phillips would probably have been released from custody when she turned 25. Phillips looked down as Wade read his decision to a small gallery that included the victim's sister and other members of her family.

Some of those relatives blinked back tears as the judge described how 72-year-old Manuela "Nellie" Fyock was hit in the face and head with tools from her Rialto home--including a hatchet, wrenches and a metal wedge used for splitting wood--while she lay in bed. The crime was so heinous that it could have been conceived by the author of a horror novel, Wade said.

"She spit on the victim as she left her dying with a hatchet in her neck," Wade said, referring to Phillips' own account of the crime in a confession she gave to police. Phillips' attorney now disputes the validity of that account.

Outside the courtroom, Fyock's family members declined to comment on the judge's decision.

Phillips' mother, Anita, said she had hoped the hearing would go differently but said she was not surprised.

She had visited her daughter in Juvenile Hall on Monday, she said.

"She was OK," Anita Phillips said. "She was calm."

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