Woman found guilty in 1996 killing of ex-husband

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - A once-prominent socialite was found guilty Tuesday in the 1996 Tucson car bomb killing of her ex-husband after spending years abroad living a lavish lifestyle across Europe.

Pamela Phillips, 56, was convicted 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 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 seconds 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 hitman 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.

“The state went after the easy marks,” Eckerstrom told jurors during closing arguments, indicating that Triano had plenty of other enemies with better motives to kill him. “You have to tell the state, ‘You made a mistake.’”

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.

“He’s not getting paid for business advice that she never takes - he’s getting paid for murder,” prosecutor Rick Unklesbay said in closing arguments.

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