Murder? Sir William Blackstone, an 18th-century English judge, is known for writing Commentaries on the…
On January 17, 2013, Maryland courts found a former police officer guilty of murder. Richmond Phillips was found guilty of the first degree murder of his mistress Wynetta Wright and their infant child Jaylin. According to the prosecution, Phillips shot and killed 20-year-old Wright in May 2011 after a heated argument regarding a child support dispute. He then proceeded to drive 11-month-old Jaylin to a nearby apartment complex, and left her to die inside her mother’s SUV as temperatures in the car rose to a sweltering 125 degrees. The search for Wright’s body began when she failed to show up for the paternity hearing, and her body was found days later in the park where the dispute had taken place.
The case against Phillips gained momentum as Kimberly Everett, another of Phillip’s mistresses at the time of the dispute, stepped forward with incriminating testimony regarding the murder weapon. Everett reported that Phillips was in possession of a “small caliber” gun matching the .22 caliber gun used in the murder. Phillip’s defense responded to these charges arguing that the evidence was too circumstantial for a conviction and that his client “didn’t do this thing”. Regardless, Phillips was charged with the murder of both his mistress and daughter, and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole plus twenty years.
Over the last year and a half, this case has attracted substantial media attention and has been met with a heated public response. Though it is not uncommon for such cases to attract public attention, Phillip’s respected position as a law enforcement officer clearly played a role in the case’s popularity. As community leaders and role models, police officers are held to a higher ethical standard than the ordinary citizen. As they swear in the police Oath of Honor, a public statement of commitment to ethical behavior, officers are expected to uphold both the constitution and public trust in the people they serve. Leaders in the force are charged with ensuring that such ethical standards are adhered to within the organization. Therefore the case raises important questions regarding police oversight and their duty to uphold these ethical standards in the private, as well as public, sphere.