Echoing a Probation Department report that called 16-year-old Christy Phillips a monster who needed to be kept from society, a judge sentenced the Rialto teenager Wednesday to two consecutive life sentences for bludgeoning to death an elderly neighbor with an ax and pipe wrench two years ago.
“It gives me no great pleasure to do what I’m about to do,” Fontana Superior Court Judge James Skropos said just before handing down the life sentence terms. “But for the protection and safety of this community, I have to.”
Wednesday’s sentence marks the second time this week that San Bernardino prosecutors won a life sentence against a teenage defendant. On Tuesday, a Rancho Cucamonga judge sentenced 17-year-old Paul Yum to 40 years in prison for the 1999 shooting deaths of his mother and sister. At the time of the killing, Yum was 14.
John Kochis, chief deputy district attorney in San Bernardino, said the shocking crimes of teenagers, and the harsh penalties they bring, are not as rare as people in the community think.
“There have always been juveniles, like adults, who commit these terrible crimes,” said Kochis. “And when we obtain these convictions, judges, more often than not, make the punishments fit the crime.”
Still, Phillips’ defense attorney made a passionate plea to Skropos, pleading with him not to accept a Probation Department report’s harsh words about the teenager. He took particular exception to a portion of the report that called Phillips a monster.
“Webster’s dictionary defines monster as inhumanly cruel and wicked,” the report said. “By definition, Christy Phillips is a monster.”
“My client is no monster,” Supervising Deputy Public Defender John Crouch said. “She is a girl, a young girl. And although she was physically 15 [at the time of the murder], she is mentally and emotionally much younger than that.”
But Deputy Dist. Atty. Joanne Uhlman countered that the girl took “sick, sadistic pleasure” in what was nothing more than a thrill killing for a bored teenager.
According to prosecutors, Phillips and a 13-year-old friend talked their way into the Rialto home of 72-year-old Manuela “Nellie” Fyock in July 2000, saying they wanted to adopt one of the woman’s more than 20 cats.
Once inside the home, according to a confession Phillips later gave detectives, she turned to her younger friend and asked: “What do you think? Should I kill this lady?”
In her description of the crime, Phillips said she first struck Fyock, who used a walker to get around, over the head with a wood splitter. She then alternately beat the woman with an ax, a pipe wrench and a lug wrench. Phillips left and returned to Fyock’s home twice. She wanted to make sure Fyock was dead, Phillips told investigators. Before leaving a final time, Phillips spit on the blood-soaked body.
Phillips later told her younger friend’s mother about the killing, prompting her to call the police.
At her trial, Phillips recanted her confession and said it was the younger girl who bludgeoned the woman to death. The confession, she said, was out of loyalty to a friend she wanted to protect. But jurors did not buy that explanation and found the girl guilty of first-degree murder.
The slaying horrified and outraged the community surrounding the modest home on East Easton Avenue, where Fyock lived for more than 30 years. The front porch to her home, now just a shack with broken and boarded- up windows, is still littered with the rosary beads and flower vases placed there in the days after the crime.
Neighbor Abraham Wilson said he knew Fyock. And he used to see Phillips and her 13-year-old friend playing in the street near his home.
“They just seemed so polite, so nice,” Wilson said. “And I just didn’t know what to think when it happened. Kids are smiling at you one day, and the next thing you know they’ve killed somebody.”
“I just thought, ‘Why?’” neighbor Imelda Gomez said. “Why take it out on this poor woman, who had nothing to do with this kid and whatever problems she was having? I don’t care how young she is or what her circumstances were, she had no right to go around killing a defenseless woman like that.”
Mayor Grace Vargas said the crime put the city even more on guard. “There was just such a lack of value for this woman,” Vargas said. “Something like this shouldn’t happen here or anywhere.”
But Phillips’ older sister said the Christy Phillips most people have learned about through news accounts is simply not the kid sister she grew up with.
“The way people have described her,” said Shealonda Phillips, 24. “They didn’t know the Christy we knew.”
Shealonda Phillips, a clerk for the county with plans to attend the University of Redlands, said she and her four siblings had a rough life. According to court records, their father was an abusive man who beat his children and locked them up in a room for hours at a time, not even allowing time to come out and use the bathroom. Instead, they were given diapers. He left the family years ago.
“But Christy, she used to laugh. ... She had goals,” Phillips said. “She was a good person.”