Nfld. & Labrador

Brandon Phillips found guilty of 2nd-degree murder in Captain's Quarters shooting

Brandon Phillips has been found guilty of second-degree murder by a jury at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court

Larry Wellman, 63, killed while attempting to thwart armed robbery in October 2015

Brandon Phillips listens to his lawyer, Mark Gruchy, after the jury convicted him of second-degree murder. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Brandon Phillips was found guilty Friday of second-degree murder in the 2015 death of Larry Wellman, who was killed after he tried to stop an armed robbery at a downtown St. John's hotel. 

There was no audible reaction in the St. John's courthouse when the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court jury delivered its verdict.

One male juror was visibly upset, with his eyes closed and face in his hands.

The 12-person jury, which started a fourth day of deliberations on Friday, returned to court with a decision just after 11 a.m.

Following the verdict, Phillips's mother Deborah told CBC News that she's glad the trial is over.

"It's been long and hard on the family," she said.

"You performed an extremely important duty in our society and I wanted to thank you for the care and attention you gave the case," Justice Valerie Marshall told the jurors after receiving their sentencing recommendations, which were not publicly disclosed. 

"Judging one's fellow person is a huge and significant responsibility."

Prosecution pleased, but not celebrating

Following the verdict, outside prosecutors Mark Heerema and Shauna McDonald told the media that they were satisfied with the jury's decision.

"We're pleased with the verdict. Certainly this was a long case, a case where clearly the jury paid a lot of attention, deliberated for a while," Heerema said.

"At the end of it, it's not going to bring Mr. Wellman back, so there's nothing particularly happy or something to celebrate today.

Crown prosecutors Shauna McDonald and Mark Heerema discuss the second-degree murder verdict. 0:32

Meanwhile, defence lawyers Mark Gruchy and Jeff Brace said they felt they had a compelling case, but were resigned to the jury's decision on Friday. They said they will now turn their attention to parole eligibility proceedings.

"Obviously Mr. Phillips is disappointed," Brace said. "We've been spending a long period of time getting ready for this, and we certainly had a degree of optimism with respect to certain issues regarding the evidence."

Jeff Brace and Mark Gruchy discuss the second-degree murder verdict in the Captain's Quarters shooting trial. 2:20

Ten years is the minimum amount of time Phillips will spend in jail before he is granted parole, while the maximum is 25 years. 

Speaking to the jurors following the verdict, the judge said she will decide parole eligibility. Individual jurors have the right to make a recommendation within that range, but they are not required to.

Marshall told the jury that it's an individual decision and that they have to consider Phillips's character and the nature of the offence.

The jury foreperson provided an envelope of recommendations to Marshall. Those details won't be disclosed specifically, only as part of Marshall's broader sentencing decision.

When asked by reporters for his reaction, Phillips remained silent as sheriffs' officers placed cuffs on his wrists. 

A date for the sentencing hearing will be set next Friday.

The killing of Larry Wellman

Phillips, 29, had been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Larry Wellman, 63, who intervened during an armed robbery at the Captain's Quarters Hotel on Oct. 3, 2015.

Larry Wellman, in the foreground, enjoying his favourite spot in the Bay of Islands, John's Beach, with a cousin. (Submitted by Heather McGrath)

Wellman, a father and grandfather, was playing video lottery terminals, getting a bite to eat and having a drink with his partner of 11 years, Linda McBay, when a masked man came into the bar.

The couple was on a house-hunting trip during his two-week turnaround from his construction job in Labrador. Wellman grew up in Corner Brook and had been a firefighter. 

'Put the f--king money in the bag'

Shortly before midnight, a masked man walked into the bar and pointed a sawed-off Winchester 12-gauge shotgun at bartender Janet Hutchings.

"Put the f--king money in the bag right now," the gunman said. Video and audio of the attempted robbery and shooting were captured on the bar's surveillance system.

Wellman was getting drinks at the bar when he saw Hutchings being held up, and he intervened.

Hutchings told the jury that Wellman was likely struck by the masked man and she watched him fall backwards.

Crown prosecutors Shauna McDonald and Mark Heerema say they are pleased with the verdict, but said it won't bring Larry Wellman back. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

A short while later, Wellman picked up a table and thrust it towards Phillips. 

Wellman's spouse screamed, desperately trying to get her husband to stop, and at one point, put herself between Wellman and Phillips.

"Hey, buddy. This one's f--king loaded," Phillips said. "Save your husband. Save his life."

Wellman was shot. He died later in hospital.

Defence lawyer Mark Gruchy speaks with Brandon's mother Deborah Phillips after her son was found guilty Friday of second-degree murder. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Throughout the course of the trial, the jury learned police had DNA evidence tying Phillips to the crime had been found on the mask used by the armed robber.

A pair of Nike Air Jordan sneakers found at Phillips's home on Quidi Vidi Road contained DNA belonging to Phillips and Wellman.

The sawed-off shotgun was also discovered by police in the home, hidden under a couch cushion.

Defence calls no witnesses

Phillips and his then-girlfriend Jade Ball, daughter of Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball, were being watched for days after the shooting.

A pair of black Nike Air Jordan sneakers were found under a couch and futon at 30A Quidi Vidi Rd. on Oct. 10, 2015. (Royal Newfoundland Constabulary)

A Royal Newfoundland Constabulary surveillance unit watched the couple's movements, between Phillips's home a short distance away from the Captain's Quarters Hotel, to Jade Ball's father's apartment at the Tiffany in the east end of St. John's.

Jade Ball had been considered a person of interest in the case, defence lawyer Jeff Brace told the court.

A DNA sample was taken from a "cast-off" — an item that is thrown away containing a person's DNA, like chewing gum or a cigarette butt — from Jade Ball but it was never sent for testing.

She was never charged in relation to the shooting. 

The defence decided against calling any witnesses to the stand, including Jade and Dwight Ball, who had been listed as potential witnesses. 

Brandon Phillips and Jade Ball, pictured here in this Facebook photo dated 2013, had been in a relationship for several years prior to Phillips's arrest. (Facebook)


Past stories from the trial for Brandon Phillips

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About the Author

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