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L.A. man gets life without parole for killing stepdaughters

Robert Lee Phillips, convicted of fatally shooting two stepdaughters during a birthday party, claims it was accidental.

September 04, 2013|By Jill Cowan

Paulette Phillips stared across the courtroom at her ex-husband and told him she had once loved him with all her heart.

She had married Robert Lee Phillips, welcomed him into her South Los Angeles home and invited him to live alongside her children.

In return, she said, "Bobby" gunned down two of her daughters.

"I gave you everything I had," she said, her voice trembling. "You ruined my life."

On Wednesday, a Superior Court judge sentenced Robert Phillips to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders of Sabrina Taylor, 30, and Charlotte Johnson, 33.

After the shooting, which occurred at a 2006 birthday celebration for Taylor, Paulette Phillips said she lost more than 100 pounds and spent time in a mental institution. As she spoke of her pain, Robert Phillips rarely looked up to meet her gaze.

Prior to his sentencing, Robert Phillips, 66, addressed his ex-wife and others in the courtroom and defiantly maintained that the deaths were accidents. He said he had simply been trying to disperse "gang bangers" who attended the party at the family's house.

"I think everyone in this room knows I didn't murder my wife's daughters," he said. "They want to sentence me to life in prison for something that was accidental."

He accused those who testified at his trial of conspiring against him. Attorneys, he said in a somewhat rambling but forceful statement, had coached them into lying about what had happened.

Phillips cited the Bible, saying that God would judge those who had wronged him.

"I tell you the Lord, our God, hates lying," he said. "Why would you think I would kill Sabrina and [Charlotte]?"

"They didn't kill themselves," someone in the courtroom muttered.

Phillips turned toward the rows of seating.

"I forgive you for that statement," he said.

A jury found Phillips guilty of first-degree murder in Taylor's killing and second-degree murder in Johnson's killing, as well as the attempted murder of two other family members. Because he used a firearm while committing those crimes, he is ineligible for parole.

Two previous trials had ended with hung juries.

Prosecutors said Phillips and his stepdaughters had never gotten along, and that tensions had been escalating for years. At Taylor's birthday party at the home, Phillips grabbed a gun after drinking heavily and opened fire, killing the two sisters and shooting at others outside the house, prosecutors said.

Judge Kathleen Kennedy, who presided over all three trials, wasn't swayed by Phillips' comments.

"I've heard the evidence, I've heard the witnesses," she told Phillips. "What your statement was, was an insult to these good people and it was an insult to the justice system."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Joy Roberts, who prosecuted the case through its most recent trial, said she was "happy this family finally has justice," but "completely disgusted at the lack of remorse this defendant showed."

Phillips' attorney, Louis Sepe, said the case was "one of the most tragic" he'd ever worked on.

"It was like a roller coaster that didn't stop," he said. "I was hoping for voluntary manslaughter, but the jury didn't see it that way."

The victims' sister, Toni Raven, who narrowly escaped bullets at the party, said she was stunned that Phillips invoked religion at his sentencing.

"For him to talk about God — I lived there," she said. "He made my life a living hell, and now he's so holy?"

Paulette Phillips said after the hearing she was thankful for the life sentence.

Still, she said, she struggled with the fact that someone she had once trusted murdered two of those she loved most.

"He was supposed to be the protector of me and my family," she said.

jill.cowan@latimes.com

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