Friends, relatives try to show he "is not simply the bad things he has done." Witnesses plead for kingpin's life

Posted: April 23, 2010

When Maurice Phillips was a child and attending Newark, N.J., parochial schools to keep him safe from the city's dangerous streets, his mother chased drug dealers away from their home with a kitchen broom.

By the time he was in his 30s, his mother, Edna, and father, Alfred, were living in suburban Sicklerville. The move was arranged by their son, and the new home was paid for with proceeds from his multistate cocaine empire.

Now, the federal government is seizing that home - and 11 other properties - and Phillips faces the death penalty after a jury convicted him this month of running a massive drug organization and hiring a cousin to kill a government informant.

Next week, jurors will decide whether Phillips gets life in prison or is put on death row.

The trajectory of the Phillips family was put on display for three days this week as defense attorneys pulled out all stops to convince jurors that the father of three "is not simply the bad things he has done," as defense attorney Jean Barrett said.

Phillips paid a first cousin, Bryant Phillips, $18,000 in cash and clothes to kill his money launderer, Chineta Glanville, who had made the error of telling mutual friends she was cooperating with federal investigators.

She was shot twice in her Wyndmoor home in 2002. Slain at the same time was her godson, Dane King, 29, who was visiting to fix her computer.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Linwood C. Wright and Maureen McCartney argued to the jury that Phillips is "remorseless" and that with millions he has secretly stashed away, he could exact revenge if only sentenced to life in prison.

Federal attorneys rarely seek the death penalty, and each death prosecution has to be approved by the attorney general. One of the last federal prisoners executed was Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, in 2001.

More than a dozen of Phillips' relatives - nieces, aunts, cousins - took the stand to describe him as a family man who eagerly helps out relatives, loves his children, and is utterly trustworthy.

His mother described how she and her husband sent all their children to Catholic school for safety and a better education than the public schools provided. The family fenced in the backyard and gave the children strict curfews.

She described whites fleeing new black neighbors, the area deteriorating, and more than once chasing away drug dealers from the nearby corner.

For summer vacation, Maurice Phillips and other children from the extended Phillips family traveled to their grandparents' farm in South Carolina. Family members testified to idyllic vacations outdoors.

Phillips' father, who is unable to speak because of a stroke, was a high school assistant principal in New Jersey.

A childhood friend, Antoine Andrews, 41, flew in from California to describe how he and Maurice Phillips worked together at a McDonald's restaurant as teenagers. "At a young age, he had great advice," said Andrews, who went on to graduate from Rutgers University and is now a human relations director for a retail firm.

"I've never seen him harm a soul," said Carissa Wilkins, a first cousin from San Francisco. "As long as I've known him, he was a loving person."

And if he were executed? "It would be heartbreaking if anything happened to Maurice," said an aunt, Zylphia Orr. Cristal Flounoy, an older cousin, said Thursday that "I just cannot imagine him not being there anymore."

Listening to the testimony all week was Dane King's father, Preston, 59. None of the Phillips witnesses, as they described their likely pain if their relative is executed, noted the grief Preston King and Glanville's family have suffered since the 2002 killings.

All Maurice Phillips' family members testified that they had no idea Phillips had spent more than a decade dealing drugs.

The final testimony in the plea for life was a video interview of Phillips' three children.

All are girls - two by Phillips' wife, who are 5 and 3 years old, and a third daughter born of an affair Phillips had 11 years ago in Texas. The woman gave birth in jail, and Phillips flew down for the delivery, and later took the infant home and adopted her.

In the video, she talked about visiting her father in jail in Philadelphia, where he has been held without bail since 2007. "He's tall, he's funny. He makes funny jokes sometimes.

"He tells me to keep my grades up and study . . . if you don't I'll end up at McDonald's, and he doesn't want that to happen to me."

Jurors watched intently as the video was shown on courtroom screens. Phillips, as he has for months, sat quietly at the defense table. He rarely looks at the spectators behind him.

He obtained an accounting degree in the mid-1990s, and by 1998 he was in the cocaine trade, the government said. One of his employees was Theosphus Orr, his mother's brother, who drove "tractor-trailers" containing cocaine and cash to and from Texas. Court documents indicate Orr has agreed to plead guilty.

Another relative was Bryant Phillips, who testified that he committed the murders at Maurice Phillips' urging.

Bryant Phillips told prosecutors that his cousin's operation was compartmentalized so one member would not know what another was doing; that cash was stashed at Phillips' "various girlfriends' " homes, and that Orr "transported large amounts of . . . cash and cocaine, but was systematically pilfering" the drug.

The Sicklerville house was purchased for $217,735 by Glanville, on behalf of Phillips and a girlfriend who worked in the cocaine operation. In May 2002 Phillips gave the home to his parents.

On cross examination by Wright, Edna Phillips acknowledged that she and her husband never took out a mortgage for the home.

The government says the Sicklerville home "was used to facilitate . . . cocaine trafficking by serving as, among other things, a transfer point for both cocaine and money."

The jury may start deliberations on life or death Monday.

Contact staff writer Nathan Gorenstein at 215-854-2797 or ngorenstein@phillynews.com.

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