Five months after he led police on a metrowide manhunt — during which he changed his appearance and even gave a false name — Lyle "Ty" Hoffman finally owned up to the brutal shooting death of his former romantic and business partner at a gas station last summer.
"It was so fast," Hoffman said at a plea hearing Friday at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center. "I just aimed." Wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and standing before Judge George Stephenson, Hoffman, 44, pleaded guilty to second-degree intentional murder in the death of Kelly Phillips, 48, last Aug. 11.
Under terms of his plea, which attorneys described as a "straight plea," he is expected to be sentenced to 25½ years in prison, said a spokesman for the Ramsey County Attorney's office.
Speaking in a loud, clear voice, he admitted that he shot Phillips three times at an Arden Hills gas station after a "heated argument" in Phillips' car about ownership of Lush Bar, the northeast Minneapolis business the two men started and once ran together.
The two men had driven to the gas station in Phillips' car after Hoffman had told Phillips he needed a ride to work.
The shooting occurred after Phillips jumped out of the car and tried to flee. The first shot hit Phillips in the shoulder, the second shot dropped him to the ground. The final shot was fired from point-blank range into the back of Phillips' head.
When questioned in court, Hoffman said all of it happened within seconds after the two men had struggled.
Hoffman's case was scheduled for trial next month. By pleading guilty, he "spares the victim's family and everyone who loved Kelly Phillips the burden and uncertainty of a trial," Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said.
But the plea did not satisfy Nathon Bailey, Phillips' fiancé. The killing took place on the anniversary of their engagement — and two weeks before they were to be married.
"I don't think that justice was served," Bailey said. "But no amount of time will ever be appropriate for what he did."
Said Phillips' father, Jim Phillips of Mason City, Iowa, "There is no penalty strong enough" to make up for the loss of a beloved son and friend.
After the hearing, Phillips' family and friends gathered in the parking lot outside the law enforcement center to talk quietly and embrace.
Hoffman's attorney declined to speak after the hearing, saying he may give a statement at sentencing.
A ride to work
Hoffman, of Minneapolis, was captured Sept. 11 after being spotted standing near the drive-through lane outside an Arby's restaurant in Shakopee. His capture followed a monthlong manhunt that involved police throughout the metropolitan area. He was arrested without a fight, although when police first approached him, he gave them a false name.
Hoffman was charged with one count of second-degree intentional murder in the death of Phillips, an attorney with Boston Scientific.
According to friends and family of the men, Hoffman and Phillips had dated for 15 years before splitting up about five years ago. While together, they opened Lush in northeast Minneapolis and continued their business partnership even after they broke up.
But that partnership eventually turned bitter. In the months before the shooting, Hoffman was evicted from a duplex Phillips owned and was fired from Lush.
During the month Hoffman was on the run from police, he allegedly disguised his identity, traveled the metro area in cabs and buses and played the slot machines at Mystic Lake Casino. Twice, police swarmed the Blaine airport in the belief that he may have been hiding there.
Hoffman had ditched Phillips' car not far from the airport on the day of the shooting.
In the days after the shooting, Hoffman is alleged to have robbed a TCF Bank in Blaine, using the same gun he used to kill Phillips. Police say Hoffman suffered burns on his back from a dye pack that exploded in a backpack after he fled the bank.
It is not known whether Hoffman received help from anyone while he eluded authorities. No one else has been charged in connection with the case.
Choi said in his statement Friday that he was confident that Hoffman would be "held accountable for the additional crimes associated with the bank robbery."
Hoffman is scheduled to be sentenced March 17.
James Walsh • 651-925-5041