Teen receives 12-year prison sentence in Superior killing
Teah Joan Phillips took the witness stand to testify in the trials of three co-defendants charged in connection with a 2014 shooting death in Superior.
And she accepted legal responsibility for her role in April when she pleaded guilty to a felony charge of party to attempted armed robbery.
But one thing she hasn't done, Douglas County Circuit Judge George Glonek said, is truly take responsibility for her decision to drive four accomplices to Superior's Allouez neighborhood, where a robbery attempt turned to murder on Sept. 30, 2014.
"I haven't heard any legitimate remorse for the role that she played in the conspiracy that ultimately resulted in the loss of Garth Velin's life," Glonek told a crowded courtroom on Monday afternoon.
The judge cited that fact in handing down a 20-year sentence to Phillips — a maximum term that includes 12½ years in prison and 7½ years of extended supervision.
The 18-year-old Phillips, who had been out on bond, was placed in handcuffs and led from the courtroom by deputies at the end of an emotionally charged, nearly two-hour hearing.
Weeping, the defendant looked toward Paul and Debbie Velin, the victim's parents.
"I'm so sorry," she said, softly, several times as she was being escorted out.
Debbie Velin retorted: "We're in hell, Teah."
The brief exchange underscored the impassioned nature of the hearing, as the Velin family and District Attorney Dan Blank pushed for a prison term, while Phillips and defense attorney Mark Biller sought a probationary sentence.
Phillips is the third defendant to be sentenced in the case, and the third to receive a lengthy prison sentence from Glonek.
Initially charged as a party to felony murder, Phillips was subpoenaed and testified under immunity in the trials of co-defendants Kane Michael Robinson, Kyham Lavon Dunn and Dallas Eugene Robinson before pleading guilty to the lesser robbery charge.
Authorities said Phillips drove boyfriend Chance William Andrews and the three others from Duluth to Superior that day, parking a few blocks away and even serving as a "scout" by knocking on Velin's door to ensure that he was home.
Andrews, Dallas Robinson and Dunn then approached the home in an attempt to rob the victim of money and drugs, but the situation ended with Andrews fatally shooting Velin in the chest.
In a victim impact statement, Debbie Velin used scathing terms to refer to Phillips: "Horrible," "pure evil," a "monster."
"She deserves to rot in prison," the victim's mother told the judge. "She deserves to pay for what she did to Garth."
Blank detailed numerous pieces of evidence, including photos and Facebook messages, that he said proved Phillips entered a "gang lifestyle" during her relationship with Andrews.
The prosecutor said she showed no remorse, working strategically to cover up her actions in the following days and weeks, and was an uncooperative witness during the co-defendants' trials.
"It was like pulling teeth," Blank said of her testimony.
Defense attorney Biller contended that the evidence showed Phillips was heavily manipulated by Andrews during a roughly one-month period of her life.
Biller described Andrews as a "gangster wannabe" and compared his ability to manipulate people to that of Charles Manson.
She had a clean criminal and school record prior to the incident and has remained out of trouble during the 22 months she has been free on bond, living in southern Wisconsin with her father, the attorney said.
"The Velins have built her up in their minds as the personification of evil," he said. "If Teah Phillips were this evil individual, it would have been evident before her association with Chance Andrews and after her association with Chance Andrews."
Biller also described his client's testimony as the "lynchpin" in the state's successful prosecution of her co-defendants, saying it would have been impossible to prove the cases without her cooperation.
A recent high school graduate, Phillips told the judge she has held steady jobs while out on bond and has aspirations to be a dairy farmer.
In a statement immediately before receiving her sentence, repeatedly apologized to the Velin family and asked Glonek for the opportunity to avoid prison.
"I take responsibility for this," she said. "In the last two years, I'd have a lot of time to think. I've made a lot of bad decisions and I take responsibility for my actions. Going through those events has changed my life. It's made me realize the person I want to be."
Glonek said there were a number of mitigating factors in the case, including the fact that she was only 16 at the time of the shooting and has remained out of trouble while out on bond.
However, the judge said he was troubled that Phillips has continued to deny knowledge of a conspiracy to rob Velin and the fact that Andrews regularly carried a gun — despite evidence to the contrary.
"Probation is not appropriate under the facts of this case," he said. "Confinement is necessary to protect the public from further criminal activity."
As the two-year anniversary of Velin's death nears, the sentencing leaves just one case left to be resolved. Dallas Robinson, who was convicted of party to felony murder in June, will be sentenced on Oct. 5.
Andrews, who pleaded guilty to felony murder, was sentenced last year to 20 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision. Kane Robinson received 18 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision for his role as a party to murder.
Dunn was acquitted by a jury in January.