Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Trial begins in 2007 slaying of St. Petersburg body shop owner

ST. PETERSBURG — Vinson Phillips was the man people turned to when they needed a reliable car for a cheap price. Or body work on a payment plan.

He was the man neighbors sought out for an extra tool, for help cutting an overhanging branch, for removing a dead bird from the back yard.

And Phillips, a father of four, was the man his son Tomas turned to for just about anything.

"He showed me how to work on cars," Tomas, 15, recalled Tuesday. "He was showing me how to be a man. He was my everything. I always looked up to him."

Three years ago, Phillips, 46, was shot to death by robbers who burst into his home. Tomas and his family now are hoping for justice.

Brandon McCalvin Sutton, 24, has been charged with first-degree murder. His trial began Monday.

Prosecutors say he is one of two men who donned black masks and dark clothes and broke into the Phillipses' house at 2227 33rd St. S in an effort to steal a "fifty stack" — $50,000 — they believed was stored in a safe in Phillips' closet.

Phillips didn't have that kind of money in the safe, only coins and jewelry. The invaders killed him anyway.

"They shot my daddy," his daughter Shanika, 18, testified on Tuesday.

• • •

At Phillips Enterprise, his body shop near the corner of 18th Avenue South and 16th Street, everybody knew Phillips. Carnell Walker, 59, a body man at the shop, says, "his family came first, his shop came next," and everybody around the shop came next after that.

Follow the rich, smoky smell to Connie's barbecue around the corner, and owner Melvin Hall will tell you: "He's very, very missed in St. Petersburg." Hall said Phillips' name still comes up almost every day. When someone talks about car problems, he always says: "If Vinson was here, I could get it fixed for you."

Cross 18th Avenue to the Blue Nile food store and manger Ali Oliver says he learned a lot about Phillips just by seeing his children come into the store. They were always respectful, always friendly and easy to talk to, Oliver said.

Phillips and Renea Powell Phillips have four children: Vinson Jr., 27; Shanika, 18; Tomas, 15; and Keshone, 13.

Phillips loved family time, fishing at the Pier and the Sunshine Skyway, and eating seafood, Renea Phillips said. They watched home-improvement shows together, and he built a waterfall in the back yard. She said he saved coins all year and gave them to her around Christmas to buy $400 or $500 worth of presents. He liked football, and painted youth football team helmets in the shop using his auto painting gear.

Shanika called him "loving, caring, sharing, understanding." Tomas said he taught him how to sand down car bodies, and tape up the windows and rims to get them ready for painting.

Even though Tomas was only 12 at the time of the shooting, he recalls his father preparing him for things he would need to know as a young man. "He always told me, when you find a girl, don't find a girl for 'benefits.' Find a girl that you really like and they like you."

• • •

The prosecutors in this case "'will prove murder, they will prove a home invasion robbery," attorney Charles Holloway said.

But Holloway, a defense attorney, also said the evidence will show Sutton didn't do it.

Prosecutors say Sutton admitted to being at the house during the crime, though he has denied shooting anyone. But prosecutors also say only two men came into the home and that Phillips was shot with two weapons, implicating Sutton in the shooting.

Renea Phillips said her husband was heating some crab legs in the microwave, and she was on the bed talking to a friend on the phone, when two masked men burst into their bedroom, pointing handguns and demanding money from the safe. Shanika came in, and one of the men yanked her hair and tossed her to the floor. Her mother slipped off the bed and crawled on top of her then-16-year-old daughter, trying to protect her.

Renea Phillips said one of the men aimed a gun at her husband, demanding he open the safe and telling him: "I'm not playing, man, I'm going to shoot you."

There was one shot, then a burst of others, Renea and Shanika said.

Then the men ran away. The safe, which contained some coins and pieces of gold jewelry, was never opened. The family called an ambulance for Phillips, but he was pronounced dead at Bayfront Medical Center.

Sutton was arrested about six months after Phillips' death. A second person has not been charged in the killing.

The trial resumes today.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at or (727) 893-8232.

Trial begins in 2007 slaying of St. Petersburg body shop owner 08/31/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 11:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Housing starts fall in July

    Real Estate

    WASHINGTON — The Commerce Department said Wednesday that housing starts fell 4.8 percent in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.16 million. Groundbreakings for multi-family buildings such as apartments slumped 17.1 percent, while single-family house construction slipped 0.5 percent.

    On Wednesday, the Commerce Department reported on U.S. home construction in July. 
[AP file photo]
  2. Pasco doubles tourist tax to finance sports complex


    DADE CITY — Pasco County is doubling its tourist tax to 4 percent to build an indoor sports complex in Wesley Chapel and improve its outdoor boat ramps in west Pasco.

    Pasco County's plan to double its tourist tax on overnight accommodations to 4 percent is intended to help finance a $25 million sports complex in the Wiregrass Ranch area of Wesley Chapel. It  would include a 98,000-quare-foot multipurpose gymnaisium of eight basketball courts and dedicated space for gymnastics, cheerleading and a fitness center. Shown here is the four-court fieldhouse with 50,000-square-feet of space for competitions at  Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.  Times photo by James Borchuck (2007)
  3. 5 things to do under $5: Where to see solar eclipse, Bucs training camp


    1 Solar eclipse: Turn around, bright eyes. Monday brings a total eclipse of the sun, and you'll need protective eyewear to see it. The bay area won't be plunged into darkness for a few minutes like the middle of the country, but with solar lenses you can see this rare event. The Museum of Science and Industry, …

    This photo shows a “diamond ring” shape during the 2016 total solar eclipse in Indonesia. For the 2017 eclipse over the United States, the National Science Foundation-funded movie project nicknamed Citizen CATE will have more than 200 volunteers trained and given special small telescopes and tripods to observe the sun at 68 locations in the exact same way.
  4. Florida man has some of Princess Di's wedding cake, plus 13,000 other royal items (w/photos)

    Human Interest

    John Hoatson recalls the day it all began with perfect clarity.

    John Hoatson poses with a photo taken in 2006 when he met Sarah "Fergie"; Ferguson, the Duchess of York, for tea at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in California.
  5. Les Miller on Charlottesville: 'This is not what we should about'


    TAMPA -- In the aftermath of the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., and ahead of today's continued conversation on Tampa's Confederate monument, Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller on Wednesday looked to inspire unity in an invocation that a colleague called "inspirational."

    Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller prayed for unity during Wednesday's Hillsborough County Commission meeting, following the violent protests in Charlottesville that left 19 injured and one dead.