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Phillip to face second Kent trial in Frankel murder case
William L. Phillip Jr., will face a second trial starting Feb. 24 in Kent after jurors were unable to reach an unanimous verdict about whether he stabbed Seth Frankel to death in 2010.
King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas declared a mistrial Dec. 18 after the 12 jurors deliberated for one and a half days. Phillip remains in custody in the county jail on the first-degree murder charge.
Jurors considered whether Phillip stabbed Frankel to death on May 21, 2010 in Frankel's Auburn home he shared with Bonny Johnson, a woman each man loved. The trial lasted six weeks. Frankel worked as a video program coordinator for the city of Kent.
"It's obviously always disappointing to have a trial of that length and to not have an outcome and have to do it all over again," said Patrick Hinds, deputy prosecutor, during an interview Friday after Darvas set a new trial date at the Maleng Regional Justice Center.
Hinds said the mistrial came as a disappointment for Frankel's family as well. His father Richard Frankel traveled from his home in Hawaii and his mother Emily Markiewicz traveled from her home in Virginia to attend each day of the trial.
"After this long between the date of Seth's murder and the trial and the length of the trial, they were looking forward to having some closure one way or another," said Hinds, who gave the trial's opening statement. "It puts it off for longer either way. They were disappointed with that but they understand this is one of the things that happens when you have a jury system. It needs to be unanimous to convict, unanimous to acquit and anything in between you keep going. I think they understand that."
Closing arguments were given Dec. 17 by Senior Deputy Prosecutor Wyman Yip and defense attorney Anuradha Luthra. Yip portrayed Phillip, 33, of Portland, Ore., as a man who wanted to return to a romantic relationship with Johnson and went so far as to kill Frankel in an effort to get back together with her. Yip said the evidence of a towel found near the murder scene with the DNA of Phillips, cellphone records and text messages prove Phillip drove up from Oregon and committed the crime.
Luthra told the jury that the state was "trying to put a square peg in a round hole," by blaming Phillip for the murder.
"Not a single witness can put Mr. Phillip in Mr. Frankel's house on the night Mr. Frankel was killed," Luthra said. "Not a single witness can tell you that Mr. Phillip knew where Mr. Frankel lived or worked or even knew his last name. Not a single witness can give you a reason why Mr. Phillip would kill Mr. Frankel."
Luthra said the state charged "the wrong person," simply because Phillip couldn't be excluded from being in Auburn the night Frankel was killed. She said Auburn Police failed to investigate other people who might have committed the murder.
New evidence or information could come up before the second trial starts.
"Both sides will continue to investigate if new information comes up or if either side sort of wants to change its strategy, you are not tied in to sort of redoing the same case that was done before," Hinds said.
Yip and Hinds will stategize to decide how to approach the new trial. The defense attorneys will do the same.
"In leading up to the trial, we will assess if we want to makes changes with the case we put on before and the case put on now," Hinds said. "In the very short term, I think everyone will benefit from a period of reflection based on having a hung jury and the emotions you have, the adrenaline when a trial is over. Everyone over the holidays will let it all sink in and come back in the new year and figure out where we go from there."
Defense attorney Kristen Murray said she could not really comment about the case since it is going to be retried. She said prosecutors have a bit more liberty to discuss a mistrial.
Hinds wished he could have commented about a guilty verdict. But now he must prepare for the case again.
"We respect the jury's opinion whatever form it takes and sometimes that means taking the opinion of the jury that they could not come to a conclusion," Hinds said. "That is in on some level frustrating that there isn't a resolution but that's more of response to that we always want to have it done as quickly and as officially as possible but this is part of the jury system."
Hinds said the jury decides how long it wants or needs to arrive at a verdict, which is why some juries decide a case in a day and others might take weeks.
The second trial is expected to last about as long as the first trial, Hinds said. The trial date could be continued, but isn't expected to start later than the end of March.