TUCSON, Ariz. — A once-prominent Aspen socialite convicted of first-degree murder in the 1996 Tucson car-bomb killing of her ex-husband was sentenced Thursday to natural life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Pamela Phillips also was sentenced to 25 years to life for conspiracy to commit murder.
“I’m innocent! I’m innocent!” Phillips said, turning to the gallery to make her statements. “This is a nightmare.”
Phillips, 56, couldn’t receive the death penalty because she was extradited from Austria, which has a treaty with the U.S. that won’t allow anyone to be extradited for prosecution if they face capital punishment.
A Pima County Superior Court jury last month found Phillips guilty of having businessman Gary Triano killed with a pipe bomb outside a Tucson-area country club.
Prosecutors said Phillips hired ex-boyfriend Ronald Young to kill Triano to collect on a $2 million life-insurance policy so she could maintain her extravagant taste for the good life. She spent years abroad living a lavish lifestyle across Europe.
Authorities said Young was paid $400,000 to carry out the hit. He was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to two life terms in prison.
The state’s case against Phillips hinged largely on the purported secret arrangement between Phillips and Young, whom the defendant dated while working as a real estate broker in Aspen after she divorced Triano.
Triano was a developer who made millions investing in Indian bingo halls and slot-machine parlors in Arizona and California before Congress authorized tribes to open full-blown casinos. But after the real estate market declined and he lost control of his gambling interests, Triano went broke.
That’s around the time Phillips filed for divorce, prosecutors said.
The couple, who had two children together, separated, but Phillips remained the beneficiary of Triano’s insurance policy, paying the premiums herself.
She eventually moved to Aspen and worked in real estate before meeting Young, and prosecutors said the two later would hatch a plan to kill Triano and collect on the policy.
After the killing, Young was on the run from a warrant for his arrest in Colorado on fraud charges while Phillips was sending him money for the hit, eventually adding up to $400,000, prosecutors told jurors.
The investigation into Triano’s killing stalled until Young’s arrest in 2005 in Florida on the fraud charges. That’s when both Phillips and Young became the key suspects in the killing. Authorities say he kept detailed records of his financial transactions with Phillips, including recorded telephone conversations and invoices. Prosecutors said police also found divorce records pertaining to Phillips and Triano in a van rented by Young.
By then, Phillips had received the $2 million insurance payout and had left Aspen for a life overseas.
She was arrested in Austria in 2009 and extradited to Tucson. Her case was delayed after a judge ruled she was mentally unfit to stand trial at the time.