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Phillip on trial again for killing city of Kent employee Frankel
The question of whether Williams L. Phillip Jr. or someone else killed city of Kent employee Seth Frankel in 2010 at his Auburn home dominated the opening statements Monday at the retrial of Phillip just as it did last year at his initial trial.
King County Superior Court jurors in December were unable to reach an unanimous verdict after a six-week trial, so Judge Andrea Darvas declared a mistrial in the first-degree murder case against Phillip, 33. Darvas told the new jury the retrial is expected to last until April 18.
King County Deputy Prosecutor Patrick Hinds told the jury Monday at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent that Phillip drove from Oregon to Auburn to stab Frankel to death in his home because both were in love with Bonny Johnson and Phillip wanted her back. Frankel, 41, worked as a video program coordinator for the city of Kent. He was a divorced father of two young girls.
"The evidence will demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the person who did this is William Phillip Jr.," said Hinds, who listed Phillips' cellphone records, his DNA on a towel found at Frankel's home, a hand injury and writings of hatred about Frankel as evidence.
"(Police) found what Mr. Phillip wrote as they searched his apartment," Hinds said. "They found a number of pads that were essentially poetry and journals or other writing that indicated that he had both a romantic obsession with Bonny as well as personal animosity and dislike, hatred for Seth based upon the relationship the two of them had."
Defense attorney Anuradha Luthra said during her opening statement that the Auburn Police arrested the wrong man when they took Phillip into custody in December 2010 in Portland for Frankel's murder on May 21, 2010.
"Clearly, Mr. Frankel was murdered," Luthera said to the jury. "You've already seen the pictures. You know that it was gruesome. It is a tragedy. But Mr. Phillip did not kill Mr. Frankel. In order to believe the state's theory you will see throughout this case that you have to ignore evidence. You will see that police pursued an avenue of investigation that was the most intriguing, a sexy love triangle of sorts."
Luthra added during the trial she will show that the police failed to pursue other options.
"At the end of this case you will have one remaining question, 'Who killed Mr. Frankel?" she said. "You will still have that question because the state cannot prove that it was Mr. Phillip. Mr. Phillip did not kill Mr. Frankel."
Seth Frankel's father Richard Frankel, and his mother Emily Markiewicz were among those in court for the retrial just as they were for the initial trial. Richard Frankel traveled from his home in Hawaii and Markiewicz from her home in Virginia.
Hinds claimed during his opening statement that cellphone records put Phillip within a few blocks of Frankel's home the night of his killing. Hinds said Phillip borrowed his mother's white Ford Mustang to drive to Kent and Auburn.
Luthra said Phillip didn't drive his mother's car but rode his motorcycle to Auburn. She said he drove up Interstate 5 just to get away as he dealt with recent deaths of a relative and a good friend.
A small towel found at the crime scene had DNA from Phillip and Frankel, Hinds said. Luthra said DNA can last on an object for decades and that the medical examiner will testify that she couldn't even tell if the DNA was from blood, semen or saliva. Luthra said during the first trial the towel could have been from Johnson's house in Portland when she dated Phillip.
Auburn Police began to investigate Phillip after Johnson tipped them off about her relationship with Phillip. Johnson met Phillip in 2008 in Portland and the two dated for a month or two before Johnson broke off the relationship in 2009, Hinds said. The two remained friends and kept in contact up until Frankel's killing.
Frankel and Johnson moved into the Auburn home in October 2009, Hinds said. Johnson commuted to a weekend job in Portland and was in Oregon the night of Frankel's death. They had initially met in 2003 when they each worked at a Eureka, Calif., television station. Frankel had an extramarital affair with Johnson in California in 2005 but his marriage survived. Johnson moved to Portland in 2007 and Frankel moved with his family in 2007 to Kent.
As far as the writings by Phillip about Frankel, Luthra said the harshest word Phillip used against Frankel was calling him a "douche bag." She added a text message from Phillip to Johnson described Frankel as "old and un-hot."
"There was no threat or ill wishes," Luthra said.