Friday, April 11, 2008
By Paul Pinkham,
A career criminal was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder and armed robbery in the 2005 shooting death of a Jacksonville lumberyard worker who tried to help a co-worker who was being robbed.
Jurors will return to court April 22 to recommend whether Galante Romar Phillips, 28, should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.
The jury deliberated about 90 minutes before convicting Phillips of murdering Chris Aligada, 40, in the parking lot of Builders First Source on Roosevelt Boulevard. Jurors also convicted Phillips of robbing Wilbur Sweet, whom Aligada was trying to help when he was shot.
Aligada's mother broke down crying when the verdict was read and didn't want to discuss the case until after sentencing. Phillips didn't appear surprised by the jury's decision.
His court-appointed attorney, Jerry Shea, had argued for second-degree murder. He said his client was guilty of stupidity and carelessness but not premeditated murder.
"He just turned and pulled the trigger," Shea said. "There wasn't a moment where he decided, 'I'm going to kill somebody.' "
But prosecutors contended Phillips assessed Aligada as a threat before firing twice at the unarmed man. They reminded jurors of Phillips' own statements to police and during an undercover wiretap, when he said Aligada's intervention in the robbery left him no choice but to shoot.
"He shot ... an innocent victim who had nothing to do with what happened out there other than to come to the aid of another innocent victim," said Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda.
Once jurors decide on a sentence, Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper can accept or reject their recommendation. Florida judges typically follow jury recommendations in death penalty cases.
Phillips currently is serving a 30-month prison sentence for an unrelated grand theft and has done stints for selling cocaine and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
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