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Plea balances help, punishment

Robert Phillips has been described as delusional, suicidal, epileptic. He is a man who exhibits intermittent explosive disorder, magical thinking and grandiosity. Phillips also has been tagged with another label: killer.

Those themes of murder and mania were sounded as Phillips went on trial this week for nearly decapitating his elderly mother Aug. 27, 1988, after the two argued over household chores.

Tuesday evening, the prosecuting and defense attorneys and the judge presiding over the trial agreed that Phillips needs punishment for his criminal act and care for his physical and mental disorders.

They also agreed that society needs protection from the troubled and unstable 47-year-old Spring Hill resident.

A plea agreement, reached as the first day of testimony ended, will send Phillips to prison for 15 years, put him on probation for life, and require that he live in an appropriate residential facility after his release from prison and continue treatment for his physical and psychological problems.

"I guess that's what I have to do. There's nothing else I can do," Phillips said during the plea discussion.

Attorneys in the case said Phillips was offered the negotiated plea last week, but rejected it.

Tuesday evening, after several of his friends testified about events surrounding the slaying of his mother, Phillips changed his mind, Assistant Public Defender Genie Buckingham said. He pleaded no contest and was judged guilty by Circuit Judge Jack Springstead.

During the testimony of psychiatrist George W. Barnard, Phillips "just turned to (Assistant Public Defender) Alan Fanter and said he wanted to know if the deal was still open," Ms. Buckingham said Wednesday.

Friends had testified that Phillips showed increasing irritation toward his mother in the weeks before her murder. Phillips, who lived with his mother, resented the control she exercised over him, his friends said. Several times, according to the testimony, Phillips said he wanted to kill her.

A pathologist testified that 74-year-old Agatha Phillips died from a knife wound so extensive it nearly severed her head.

Phillips had confessed to the murder.

His attorneys argued that Phillips was insane when he attacked his mother.

Tuesday night, when Phillips said he wanted to stop the trial and plead to the murder charge, Springstead asked Barnard, the psychiatrist, to return to the courtroom and advise him whether Phillips was competent to enter the negotiated plea.

After discussing with Phillips the implications of his plea and the conditions of his probation, Springstead accepted the agreement.

Phillips probably will serve about half of the 15-year prison term, Ms. Buckingham said.

Assistant State Attorney William Gross said the plea arrangement allows the court to supervise Phillips' living conditions after his discharge from prison.

"I have talked to the police and to several members of my office," Gross said. "They feel (the negotiated plea) is appropriate for the court and for society at large. (Phillips) will receive help, and (it) will be safe for the community."