Analysis

There are no winners in courtroom No. 4

The gallery in the courtroom for Brandon Phillips's murder trial is similar to the setup at a wedding: the groom's family on one side, the bride's on the other. But there's nothing to celebrate.

Brandon Phillips will head to federal prison, like his father did before

Brandon Phillips sits at Supreme Court in St. John's as members of Larry Wellman's family, including his son, daughter and widow, look on. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

The gallery of the courtroom for Brandon Phillips's trial is similar to the setup at a wedding: one family sits on the right side, another on the left. But there's nothing to celebrate.

There is no exchange of glances. No polite "How are you?"

Just strangers in a courtroom, all connected and changed by a single night in October 2015. 

As Deborah Phillips watches lawyers argue legal issues that could play a vital role in the outcome for her 29-year-old son, Linda McBay is looking back on the past.

The middle-aged woman, the widow of shooting victim Larry Wellman, sits in the front row, as she does every day.

McBay opens a handheld calendar to a glossy photo of her slain husband, looks at it for several seconds then continues to flip through the pages.

There are no winners in courtroom No. 4. Perhaps there never are. 

Son of a killer

On Friday, Brandon Phillips was found guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Good Samaritan Larry Wellman, who was killed while trying to stop an armed robbery. 

A jury of six men and six women took four days to deliberate Phillips's fate.

He'll now be sent to a federal prison, following in the footsteps of his father, Eric Squires.

Squires was convicted in the 1996 killing of mother of two Nina Walsh. He's currently serving life in prison.

Eric Squires stabbed Nina Walsh, a mother of two, to death in 1996. He is serving life in prison, without chance of parole. (CBC)

Squires's own sordid past was kept from the jury during the lengthy trial, having no bearing on the innocence or guilt of Phillips.

Until now, Phillips had no criminal record. 

Nothing to celebrate

As the jury read its verdict Friday — guilty of second-degree murder — the courtroom remained in silence. There were no gasps, no audible shock.

It wasn't the first-degree verdict the Crown had argued for, but it wasn't the manslaughter verdict that the defence had suggested, either. It was a verdict that ran straight down the middle.

Neither party seemed overly pleased.

"At the end of it, it's not going to bring Mr. Wellman back so there's nothing particularly happy or anything to celebrate today," Crown prosecutor Mark Heerema told reporters.

Before leaving the courtroom, Deborah Phillips spoke with her son's lawyers.

Members of the Phillips family sit on the left side of the courtroom, while members of Larry Wellman's family sit on the right. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

On the way out, she spoke briefly about the effect it has had on their side of the courtroom gallery.

"It's been long and hard on the family," she said, before leaving through the courtroom door.

On the other side of the room, Larry Wellman's daughter and son, Heather and Chris, declined to comment, and slipped quietly out the back. 

Two families ripped apart by an avoidable tragedy.

About the Author

Ariana Kelland

Reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.