Murder case against Phillips on hold in Arizona
August 2, 2011
ASPEN – The Arizona Court of Appeals might be tasked with deciding whether to kick a judge off the murder case of former Aspen socialite Pamela Phillips.
Phillips’ public defender contends that the judge is biased and wants him removed. Until the appellate court rules on the matter, the case, which is set for trial in January, is on hold, according to court records.
More than a year has passed since Phillips’ extradition from Austria to Tucson, Ariz., to face charges connected to the death of her ex-husband, Gary Triano. Phillips, 54, is in custody in Pima County Jail and faces charges of conspiracy and first-degree murder. She’s accused of hiring a hit man – Ronald Young – to kill Triano. Young is serving a life sentence for the car-bombing death of Triano in November 1996 at La Paloma Country Club in Tucson.
With the trial five months away, Phillips’ attorney Peter Herberg unsuccessfully lobbied a Pima County Superior Court judge to remove Judge Richard Fields from the case because of his alleged bias. Herberg, however, has been given court permission to appeal the decision.
Herberg was not available for comment Monday, but court documents in Pima County and published reports in the Arizona Daily Star show that the case is on hold. That’s because Herberg has a “special action filing pending to the Court of Appeals” to have Fields removed from the case, according to court papers.
The alleged bias from Herberg concerns Fields’ denial of a series of defense motions. Herberg also has filed motions to remove the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the clerk of court from the case because of perceived bias in the case. Those motions are pending.
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A status conference on the case is set for on Aug. 12.
Phillips had been wanted since October 2008 and was arrested Dec. 3, 2009, in Austria. She was extradited to Tucson in June 2010.
Authorities says she paid Young $400,000 to kill Triano as part of a scheme to collect on a $2 million life insurance policy. Phillips and Triano, who was a real estate investor and developer, divorced in 1993.
Young originally was connected to the murder after police in California found weapons, a map of Tucson, and divorce papers for Triano and Phillips in a car Young rented in Aspen. The car had been abandoned in the Los Angeles area shortly before Triano’s death.
While the evidence was apparently not enough to charge Young, officials continued to investigate. And in September 2006, Pima County Sheriff’s deputies, federal agents and Aspen police officers raided Phillips’ Meadowood Drive home, carrying away nine computers, discs and other items. (The house sold in the summer of 2009 at a foreclosure auction.)
Young also has ties to Aspen. He was indicted on embezzling money from Aspen residents in 1996 but left Colorado shortly before the issuing of his warrant.
Young was arrested in Florida on Nov. 21, 2005, two days after “America’s Most Wanted” aired a feature on him in connection to the Aspen warrant and the Triano murder. Young was subsequently extradited to Aspen to face felony fraud charges, but District Judge James Boyd dismissed the counts in December 2006 because he said the local case was based on hearsay and lacked enough hard evidence to go to trial.
Following a month-long trial in February and March 2010, a Pima County jury found Young guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. In May 2010 he was sentenced to two lifetimes in Arizona state prison.