Where do you want to fly?
Jack Lee Phillips Jr. was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without parole for the 2017 stabbing of Suzanne Jones — a case in which security cameras caught images of the victim and Phillips as he followed her from a hotel to the murder scene.
Jones, 42, of Hagerstown, was stabbed more than a dozen times, including fatal injuries to her brain and heart. The attack, in a parking lot at 382 S. Cleveland Ave. on the evening of Oct. 17, 2017, was captured on a video security camera.
In November, a Washington County Circuit Court jury took less than half an hour to find Phillips, 34, guilty of first-degree murder and other charges associated with the crime.
“It is a heavy decision to make,” Circuit Judge Brett R. Wilson said of putting a person in prison for life without parole. However, he noted that in the video of the fatal attack, Phillips paused at one point as he was stabbing Jones before he “continued with the assault on a defenseless person.”
“Mr. Phillips has had several instances where he was taken into some kind of state custody,” but committed more crimes upon his release, Wilson said. “The court does not believe rehabilitation is likely in this case.”
“When I think of my sister’s last moments, I think of the pain she must have endured,” Jones’s sister Cheresa Mills told the court. “I could visualize her fighting to stay alive. I could not watch the video of the attack. I couldn’t bring myself to watch an evil man brutalize my sister.”
Jones’s mother, Jolene Guessford, recalled memories of holidays with her daughter, and how her death has created “an unspoken void that we all feel now.”
“When the decision was made to murder Suzanne, there was no compassion or remorse in it,” Guessford said. “It was brutal, selfish, vicious, and savage.”
Phillips had a two-decade record of breaking the law, having first been found delinquent for robbery as a juvenile, Deputy State’s Attorney Joseph Michael said. Phillips was on probation at the time of the murder for a drug crime conviction in Frederick County, Md., Michael said.
“There is a need to isolate this person from anyone except persons like himself,” Michael said.
“I feel like I’m giving a eulogy for a living person,” Assistant Public Defender Amy Taylor said. “Life without parole is the new death penalty.”
Taylor told Wilson that Phillip has lived a difficult life, including seeing a younger sibling killed by an uncle when he was a boy, and that he likely had mental health and substance abuse problems. She asked the judge to give Phillips life with the possibility of parole as “the dangling of a carrot … to become a better person.”
Phillips would have to wait 25 years before he would be eligible for parole, she said.
Phillips maintains his innocence and plans to appeal the verdict, Taylor said.
“I really don’t know what happened, but I apologize. I’m so sorry for your loss,” Phillips, who did not testify at his trial, said to the court and Jones’ family before the sentence was announced. He said if he were guilty, he would take responsibility “because that’s the type of person I am.”
During the four-day trial, the state presented more than a dozen video clips. They included Jones and Phillips leaving from separate exits of the Days Inn on Dual Highway at 6:46 p.m., the killing at 7:02 p.m. and Phillips returning to the hotel minus the pants and yellow shirt he was wearing when he left.
Evidence against Phillips presented at the trial included his and Jones’s blood on a shoe found in a wooded area next to Days Inn. The state also showed a hotel security camera video of Phillips throwing something into the woods.
Two state witnesses, Michael Slick and Heather Schnebly, testified that they, Phillips and Jones were at Days Inn doing drugs together. Jones and Phillips then left and, when Phillips returned, he had a cut on his right hand.
They testified that Phillips admitted to stabbing Jones.
One statement by Slick that was not allowed at trial was that Phillips told him Jones was the fourth person he had killed.