CEDAR RAPIDS — Kristin Twilla said she was 15 years old and her family had just returned home from an Easter service on April 4, 1999, when she heard on the news a woman’s body was found underneath a staircase in Cedar Rapids.
Twilla, in a victim’s impact statement on Thursday, said she heard 1319 Second Ave. SE and knew the victim was her mother Judith Weeks, 44.
“It completely changed my life,” Twilla, who now lives in West Liberty, said. “I was lost, confused, I turned away from God and was self-destructive.”
Twilla, tearing up, looked across the courtroom at DeShaun Phillips, convicted of voluntary manslaughter, and told him how she couldn’t deal with the loss of her mother and started doing crack cocaine at age 20, which turned into years of substance abuse as she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I only have one question — did my mother say anything?” Twilla asked.
Phillips just looked back at her, showing no emotion. He told 6th Judicial District Senior Judge Thomas Koehler that he had “nothing” to say before being given a 10-year prison sentence.
Phillips, 37, of Shakopee, Minnesota, made an Alford plea to the lesser charge in June. In making an Alford plea, a defendant doesn’t admit guilt but admits the prosecution could likely prove the charges based on evidence.
Phillips, who originally was charged with first-degree murder, admitted during the plea hearing that he intentionally caused the death of Weeks, 44, by striking her with a drain pipe and/or strangling her.
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According to court documents from 1999, Weeks’ body was found naked from the waist down behind the house and she had an injury to her forehead.
The original complaint stated Weeks was killed during a sexual assault or robbery, but there was no evidence to prove either of those theories, Assistant Linn County Attorney Jordan Schier said last month. He also couldn’t explain why she was without some clothing.
Schier and Monica Slaughter, the other assistant Linn County attorney on the case, explained after Thursday’s hearing the plea was offered because most of the physical evidence from 1999 was lost in the 2008 flood. The pipe and Weeks’ purse, which had DNA on them, were gone after the flood, and there was an additional issue with the pipe because it had rained the day of the assault and wasn’t recovered until 24 hours later.
Phillips was arrested in 2013 because police collected a DNA sample from him in a Minnesota domestic abuse case, and once entered into a national database, it matched the DNA sample found in the Weeks’ case.
Slaughter said other problems existed. For example, two medical examiners on the case were no longer available to testify: One has died and the other suffers from dementia.
Schier said based on statements made by Phillips to a police investigator, he and Weeks were in an argument that led to her death, but other witnesses could only testify to finding and seeing Weeks’ body. They would have difficulty testifying to anything else based off only memory from 1999.
There is no mandatory minimum and with credit for time served since he was held for extradition from Minnesota after being arrested on the Minnesota domestic abuse charge, he could be immediately eligible for parole.
Slaughter said they “scoured” through the evidence in hopes of making the case stronger.
“It (the plea) doesn’t sit well with us,” Slaughter added.
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Twilla told Phillips during her statement that she felt like his sentence was a “slap on the wrist and a slap in the face” to her.
“I pray to God to have mercy on your soul,” Twilla said.
Looking back at family and friends who packed the small courtroom, she added at least, she knows, after all these years, who killed her mother. Phillips denied guilt in Weeks’ death, Schier said. In the pre-sentence report, he said he found the purse on the street and looked through it.
“It was this or to let 12 people decide my life and I haven’t seen any murder case come out as an acquittal,” Phillips told an official in the report. “I didn’t want to take a chance of going down for life.”