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Son pleads no contest in mother's stabbing death

In the middle of psychiatric testimony in his trial in the first-degree murder of his mother, Robert Phillips leaned over to his attorney and asked him to stop the process. Minutes later, Phillips and Assistant Public Defender Alan Fanter asked Circuit Judge Jack Springstead to approve a plea bargain that would send the 47-year-old Phillips to prison for 15 years and keep him on probation for the rest of his life.

Phillips's decision late Tuesday evening came after several witnesses testified of his agitation toward his 74-year-old mother's interference in his life.

Earlier Tuesday, the jury of seven women and five men heard the details surrounding the Aug. 27, 1988, slaying of his mother, Spring Hill resident Agatha Phillips.

Testimony in Phillips' trial began Tuesday afternoon after prosecuting and defense attorneys spent a day and a half picking a jury in the difficult case.

At issue was Phillips's severe, almost daily convulsions that blocked him from work, relationships and independence. Monday evening, 18 prospective jurors witnessed one of his epileptic seizures.

Earlier Tuesday, jurors saw large color photographs of Mrs. Phillips' "defense wounds," deep cuts to the fingers of her left hand, where she apparently grabbed a knife in a battle for her life and a V-shaped gash to her right forearm, where she apparently tried to deflect the knife.

Associate Medical Examiner John Sass testified that Mrs. Phillips had superficial bruises and cuts on her face, apparently sustained in a fall to the floor.

She died from a sawlike wound to her neck, Sass said.

Jurors also heard Tuesday that in the days before the slaying, Phillips complained about his mother's interference in his life.

And the day of the killing, Phillips met his buddy, Robert Klein, at a Spring Hill shopping center. Phillips' clothing was spattered with blood; he said he had killed his mother, Klein testified.

Assistant State Attorney William Gross and Assistant Public Defender Alan Fanter told jurors that the primary question was not Phillips' actions but his state of mind.

"The big issue ... is whether he was sane or insane at the time he killed his mother," Gross said.