A Ruckersville man will serve three years and six months behind bars for the 2017 killing of his girlfriend.
Claude Phillips Jr., 65, was charged in April 2018 with second-degree murder for the death of Dorothy Lynn Gann, 63, who had died from brain injuries five months earlier.
According to court documents, Gann gave statements to police officers claiming Phillips had assaulted her at their Wood’s Edge Senior Living Apartments home. She lost consciousness soon after and died two weeks later due to significant brain injury. At the time of the incident, Phillips was out on bond for an earlier assault on Gann.
In December 2018, Phillips entered an Alford plea for a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, avoiding a trial while maintaining his innocence.
On Tuesday in Albemarle Circuit Court, a bespectacled Phillips sat dressed in a simple button-down shirt, flanked by his attorneys.
Gann’s daughter, Amanda Gann, read a tearful victim impact statement about what Phillip’s actions had done to her. Describing her mother as a “deeply loving” individual who saw the best in everyone, Gann said her mother was like a sister to her.
However, it was her mother’s kind nature that led her to Phillips, the younger Gann said, and it was her belief in the best of people that led to her death.
“Her loving heart would lead her to fall in love with someone who would kill her,” Gann said about her mother. “This is not the first time he was violent to her, but it would be the last.”
Without her mother, Gann said she felt she had lost a stabilizing force in her life and a best friend. She asked Judge Humes J. Franklin to sentence Phillips to a term long enough to show his actions were wrong but to also require him to seek mental help for his anger and emotional problems.
“Today I sit here, less than a week from Mother’s Day and two weeks to the day from her birthday, at a loss for words for the enormity of emotion I feel,” Gann said.
Darby Lowe, deputy commonwealth’s attorney for Albemarle, outlined the case against Phillips, detailing the injuries and violence Gann endured.
Gann and Phillips had been in a dysfunctional relationship, Lowe said, with the defendant committing acts of violence against Gann on several occasions. During the incident that led to Gann’s death, she was shoved down repeatedly and sustained injuries to her head that would lead to her death, Lowe said.
“There is loss, and only loss for Ms. Gann,” Lowe said, motioning to the victim’s daughter. “The facts of this case require a deviation from the sentencing guidelines.”
Because of Phillips’ history of violence against Gann and an avoidance of responsibility during police interviews, Lowe requested a five-year active sentence followed by five years of counseling for anger issues and relationship issues.
Lacey Parker, an assistant public defender representing Phillips, said her client had been dealing with the loss of many people close to him and came from a loving family. Though she acknowledged he had troubles with alcohol, Parker said Phillips did not have a history of violence.
“The question everyone in this courtroom is probably asking is why?” she said. “Why does a 65 year-old man with no history of violence do something like this?”
Parker requested an active sentence of one year, arguing that because of Phillips’ various health issues and age that a sentence of one year would be significant.
Ultimately, Franklin sentenced Phillips to 10 years, with all but three years and six months suspended. Upon release, Phillips will be on three years of supervised probation.