Jurors, judge, lawyers tour murder locations

Corey Phillips exits a school bus after being driven to the intersection of East North Street and Neshannock Avenue on Wednesday. Phillips, attorneys, jurors and the judge in his homicide trial were taken Wednesday to the site where the body of 23-year-old Jamiah Ward was found in October 2014. Phillips was found guilty of first degree murder today in Ward's death.

Closing arguments in the homicide case against Corey Brandon Phillips lasted nearly 2 1/2 hours Friday morning.

In about that same amount of time, the jury arrived at a verdict Friday afternoon, convicting Phillips of first-degree murder in the 2014 killing of 23-year-old Jamiah Ward.

Phillips, 27, faces life in prison. His sentencing will be set at a later date.

He is accused of stabbing Ward to death on Oct. 2, 2014, in a steep, wooded area called "the cut," located between the back of New Castle High School and the New Castle police station. The two, who were supposed to be friends, reportedly were out looting cars early that morning when they allegedly got into some type of altercation and Ward was stabbed multiple times. Testimony in the courtroom of Lawrence County Common Pleas judge J. Craig Cox showed there were multiple stab wounds to Ward's back, abdomen and skull and that he had suffered a broken rib.

The testimony also showed that Phillips tried to hide Ward's body and covered it up with branches and leaves, then tried later to make people think that Ward was still alive. He reportedly confessed the killing to a woman who was his on-again, off-again girlfriend.

Phillips chose not to take the witness stand yesterday in his own defense, and no witnesses were called for the defense.

Prosecuting attorney Patrick Schulte, deputy state attorney general, took on an angry, nearly shouting tone in his closing arguments as he emphasized to the jury that Phillips was no friend to Ward.

He tried to cover up his death, covered his body up with leaves and branches, wanted to pour bleach on his body and wanted to cut it up with an axe, Schulte said, adding that when he stabbed him, "he pulverized that guy."

He pointed out that Phillips had told the police that while they were out breaking into cars, the headlights of a police cruiser caused them to split up and go separate ways.

"That's covering up a murder," said Schulte, who was assisted by Deputy Attorney General Bobbi Jo Wagner.

Schulte knelt on the floor and demonstrated why the victim had defense knife wounds on his hands, while he was being stabbed to death by Phillips. Phillips had given the police an account of the two them fighting and rolling down the hillside, yet Phillips' only injuries were bite marks on his arm.

He used New Castle Detective Aaron Vitale as a dummy to demonstrate how Phillips would have grabbed Ward from behind, stabbing him in the stomach while Ward bit his arm to get away.

"Where are the knife wounds on him?" he asked of Phillips, who had claimed that Ward had been the one with the knife.

"It's as clear as day," Schulte told the jury,  adding, "The evidence of self defense is not there.

He reminded the jurors that Phillips' girlfriend had testified of seeing him with a knife in a sheath, just hours before Ward was dead.

Public defender Larry Keith defended Phillips in the case with the help of assistant district attorney Dennis Elisco.

Preceding a dramatic effort to try to sway the jurors that Phillips was innocent, Keith appealed to them the importance of their job.

"Here you are, the protectors of the presumption of innocence," he said. "You have to decide, all of you, beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty."

Keith countered that Phillips "has a cloak of innocence on him."

He described the scenario as two friends who were up to no good before the fight between them ensued.

"There's no evidence of first-degree murder," Keith argued. "None, none whatsoever."

dwachter@ncnewsonline.com

Reporter

Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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