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Pamela Phillips looks on in Pima County Superior Court Tuesday, April 8, 2014, in Tucson, Ariz.

Ron Medvescek, Associated Press - Ap

Socialite found guilty in 1996 Tucson car bomb killing of ex-husband

  • Associated Press
  • April 9, 2014 - 6:43 AM

TUCSON, Ariz. — After spending years abroad living a lavish lifestyle across Europe, a once-prominent socialite has been convicted in the 1996 car bomb killing of her ex-husband in southern Arizona.

Pamela Phillips was convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder after less than three days of deliberations that began last week. She faces life in prison at her May 22 sentencing hearing.

Phillips, 56, can't receive the death penalty because of her extradition from Austria, which has a treaty with the U.S. that won't allow anyone to be extradited for prosecution if they face capital punishment.

Phillips shook her head after the verdict was read in Pima County Superior Court. Her attorneys said they will file an appeal.

"We have now two people who are going to be serving imprisonment for something they didn't do," defense lawyer Paul Eckerstrom told KGUN-TV, referring to Phillips and convicted hit man Ronald Young. "They're innocent."

But prosecutor Nicol Green said Phillips' head shaking after the verdict "went right along with the reasons she felt that she could do this and get away with it."

During the trial that began in February, Phillips' lawyers told jurors their client had nothing to gain from the death of businessman Gary Triano and that she was the victim of overzealous authorities who failed to follow other leads. They said Phillips was already a successful real estate broker with her own money, and suggested that Triano had numerous other enemies.

But prosecutors described Phillips as a gold digger who hired a former boyfriend to kill Triano to collect on a $2 million life insurance policy so she could maintain her extravagant taste for the good life.

It's been nearly two decades since Triano died when his car exploded as he was leaving a Tucson-area country club after playing golf. Authorities said Phillips paid Young $400,000 to carry out the hit.

Young, who was Phillips' ex-boyfriend, was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to two life terms in prison, but jurors weren't allowed to consider his case while determining Phillips' fate.

Prosecutors presented a portrait of a woman who grew accustomed to the high life and found herself struggling financially with an easy $2 million way out.

The state's case against her hinged largely on the purported secret arrangement between Phillips and Young, whom the defendant dated while working as a real estate broker in Aspen, Colo., after she divorced Triano.

While Phillips claimed she had paid Young the $400,000 for assistance with business ventures and financial planning, prosecutors argued the money was clearly payment for the hit.

Triano was a developer who made millions investing in Indian bingo halls and slot-machine parlors in Arizona and California before Congress authorized tribes to open full-blown casinos. But after the real estate market declined and he lost control of his gambling interests, Triano went broke.

That's around the time Phillips filed for divorce, prosecutors said.

The couple, who had two children together, separated, but Phillips remained the beneficiary of Triano's insurance policy, paying the premiums herself.

She eventually moved to Aspen and worked in real estate before meeting Young, and prosecutors said the two would later hatch a plan to kill Triano and collect on the policy.

After the killing, Young was on the run from a warrant for his arrest in Colorado on fraud charges while Phillips was sending him money for the hit, eventually adding up to $400,000, prosecutors told jurors.

The investigation into Triano's killing stalled until Young's arrest in 2005 in Florida on the fraud charges. That's when both Phillips and Young became the key suspects in the killing. Authorities say he kept detailed records of his financial transactions with Phillips, including recorded telephone conversations and invoices. Prosecutors said police also found divorce records pertaining to Phillips and Triano in a van rented by Young.

By then, Phillips had received the $2 million insurance payout and had left Aspen for a life overseas.

She was arrested in Austria in 2009 and extradited to Tucson. Her case was delayed after a judge ruled she was mentally unfit to stand trial at the time.

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