The fate of the 50-year-old Winona, Minn., woman accused of killing her husband after running him over with her truck now rests with a jury in La Crosse District Court.
Closing arguments were delivered Friday in the second-degree reckless murder case of Lori Ann Phillips. Prosecutors allege she hit 48-year-old Mark Phillips with her truck on February 23, 2019, at their rural residence in Holmen and drove away for about four hours before returning. The woman denied knowing that her husband had died in the driveway of the couple’s home while fleeing what she described as an abusive situation.
Lori Ann Phillips took the stand for more than four hours in her own defense on Thursday and Friday. When defense attorney Chris Zachar asked her if she had any idea that she could be the cause of her husband’s death, she replied: “Absolutely nothing.”
During cross-examination by Zachar, Lori Phillips described her abusive relationship with her husband that was fueled by alcohol and jealousy. The two began dating in August 2016 and married in December 2018. She testified that Mark Phillips was a loving partner when sober but when she became drunk she became paranoid because she was seeing other men. She said her husband always apologizes when he gets sober.
People read too…
“He was amazing when he was sober,” she said.
Lori Phillips told the court that her husband’s abusive behavior escalated on the night of his death. Mark Phillips recently got a job in Bismarck, North Dakota, and gathered with friends to say goodbye, she said. The group went to Dive Bar in La Crosse, where they were introduced to a man believed to be interested in Lori Phillips.
‘I was scared’
Lori Phillips testified that her husband, whom she described as an “exterminator,” caused a scene and called her offensive names. She said the pair went to another bar before returning to Dive Bar later in the evening. Before leaving the truck, she said Mark Phillips jumped on her and choked her with an arm bar. Zachar showed photos of the bruises to the jury.
She said this was his worst behavior to date.
“I was afraid. I was terrified of him,” she said. “I don’t understand how he got to this point.”
She said they entered the bar before she decided to leave. She said Mark Phillips was angry that she was leaving without him. She said her husband grabbed her, walked her around the truck, hit her against the passenger door and pushed her inside. While returning home, she said she returned her wedding ring to him, and he replied: “Please, please don’t give it back to me.”
Once they returned home shortly after 10:30 p.m., she said Mark Phillips entered the house briefly before returning outside. She said he found out she was going to be driving the car and asked to retrieve her personal belongings from the truck. She said he continued to hurl abusive language towards her and said he would drive to Holmen to “find some women”.
She said an angry Mark Phillips “teared up” as he ran around the front of the truck toward the driver’s side door. She said it was the most angry scene she had ever seen, and that he had an “evil look”.
“I have no idea what he was going to do,” she said. “I was afraid of what would happen if he got to me.”
She said she pressed the gas while the passenger door was still open and exited the driveway. She insisted Mark Phillips was far from the front and had no reason to believe the truck hit him.
She testified that she drove her car to a nearby subdivision and parked the car, where she sent a text message implying that she was not going with him to Bismarck and wishing him well.
After leaving the department, she testified that she began looking for a hotel room. She drove to the Comfort Inn, which was booked. She then booked a room at the Baymont, but when she arrived, she discovered she had booked it for the wrong night. After that, she decided that Mark Phillips had gone back to their house and fallen asleep.
Lori Phillips said it was “pitch black” when she returned home around 2 a.m. She testified that she saw Mark Phillips’ shoes inside the doorway and assumed he was sleeping inside. She said she went upstairs and slept for the next four hours. She said that when she woke up, she went out to the garage and saw her husband’s body out of the corner of her eye. She said she “felt scared and ran straight to him” before realizing he was dead. Then I called 911.
Zachar showed a video of Lori Phillips’ stunned reaction to seeing her dead husband.
Assistant La Crosse County Prosecutor Andrew Burdick tried to poke holes in Lori Phillips’ testimony. He asked about her interview with a police officer who arrived at the scene. She admitted one officer gave her a “weird look” when she told him she didn’t believe she hit Mark Phillips with the truck.
Burdick also questioned her mental state after she drove her car into the subdivision. She repeatedly stated that she was concerned about her safety, but also told police that she was afraid when a car she suspected was a police car drove by.
“And you weren’t thinking, ‘Thank God, I’m saved?'” Burdick said. “Were you in fight or flight mode at this point?”
Lori Phillips said she had been drinking and was concerned about the possibility of being arrested for driving under the influence.
When Zachar asked her if she knew how Mark Phillips died, she replied: “I have no idea.”
“blunt force trauma”
A pathologist determined that Mark Phillips died from blunt force trauma to his head and body, including broken ribs. During closing arguments, Burdick said there was no doubt about how Mark Phillips died and that Lori Phillips took a “significant and unreasonable risk” when she hit the gas pedal.
“Mr. Phillips’ death was caused by a 2019 Dodge Ram,” Burdick said. “It wasn’t hypothermia. It wasn’t a slip and fall… There can only be one cause for that type of injury.”
Burdick said Lori Phillips “had a good idea what happened in that hallway” and that her actions after leaving the scene contradicted the account of someone who believed she was in danger.
“It’s not based on her needing to escape,” Burdick said. “It depends on her anger.”
Zachar rejected the argument that Lori Phillips acted recklessly. He said Lori Phillips feared for her safety and only had “two or three seconds” to make a critical decision.
Zachar questioned the prosecution’s argument that Mark Phillips’ cause of death was clear. He said prosecutors were never able to determine how Mark Phillips collided with the truck or what part of the truck caused his death.
“They can’t tell you how this happened,” Zachar said. “The state can’t tell you anything about this because they don’t know.”
He added that the truck’s condition was still “primitive” after the accident.
“It was clean, nothing on the grill, nothing on the paint,” Zachar said.
Lori Phillips faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.