LARGO — A jury deliberated less than an hour before finding a 24-year-old man guilty of murdering Vinson Phillips, the popular owner of a St. Petersburg body shop.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Richard Luce sentenced Brandon McCalvin Sutton on Wednesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole. That was the only possible sentence for his first-degree murder conviction because prosecutors had not sought the death penalty.
Phillips' widow, Renae Powell Phillips, said after the verdict that she thought to herself: "Thank you Jesus."
"He didn't need to walk," she said. "He took a life."
"We're relieved for the family," Assistant State Attorney Frank Piazza said after the verdict. Phillips, he said, "was a good man in the community."
Sutton apologized to the Phillips family and said he would pray for them.
During the three-day trial this week, Renae Phillips and her 18-year-old daughter, Shanika, testified that two men dressed in dark clothes, wearing masks and gloves, burst into their home at 2227 33rd St. S. in 2007.
They demanded Phillips give them money from the safe in his closet, where they believed he was storing a "fifty stack" — $50,000. They shot and killed Phillips without him ever opening the safe, which contained only coins and jewelry.
Though the Phillips family members could not identify their attackers, Sutton later admitted to police that he was there at the time of the murder, but he denied having a gun or doing any shooting. But prosecutors presented evidence that two guns had been fired at Phillips, and that only two men invaded the home.
Defense attorney Charles Holloway argued that prosecutors had not proven their case.
Phillips, 46, owned the Phillips Enterprise body shop in the 1600 block of 18th Ave. S.
Police have not arrested a second suspect in the killing.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232.