Suspected molester commits suicide in jail
A judge on March 9 quietly dismissed the child molestation charges against a former Ramona youth softball and basketball coach because the defendant died while in jail in an apparent suicide.
In documents released by the San Diego Medical Examiner’s office, it was determined that James Russell Phillips, 42, died from a prescription drug overdose on Dec. 17, 2008. Although it was initially believed that Phillips had a heart attack, a toxicological testing determined the cause of death as “acute doxepin intoxication.”
Suicide was listed in the autopsy report as the manner of death. The report said the level of the prescription drugs was “explained only by intentional ingestion of excess medication.”
“His death was a suicide by using or taking too much medication,” said Lt. Dennis Brugos, of the sheriff’s department, last week.
Toxicological reports take a long time to process, and the autopsy was performed because Phillips was an inmate.
Phillips had been housed in the George Bailey Detention Facility for almost a year. On Dec. 17, he went into convulsions. The report said his head and neck were twitching and he was transported to Sharp Chula Vista Hospital, where he died.
Phillips, who lived in Julian, was arrested in March 2008, and charged with molesting five girls. Phillips was a volunteer coach. The Ramona Unified School District issued a statement after his arrest that said Phillips had never worked with the district.
The coaching he did also included soccer. All of the games and training were done in Ramona and Julian.
The death certificate was presented to El Cajon Superior Court Judge Peter Deddeh on March 9 by Deputy District Attorney Claudia Grasso and he dismissed the case. The March 9 date was the trial date.
Phillips’ attorney, Arturo Herrera, said he was stunned to learn that Phillips may have committed suicide. Herrera said he believed his client died of a heart attack and did not know of the medical examiner’s report until a reporter called him last week.
“He was in fine spirits. He was looking forward to going to trial. We had character witnesses lined up,” said Herrera. “We had witnesses who put him somewhere else (when the molestation occurred).”
“We were getting ready to put up a good defense,” said Herrera.
Herrera said he remembered Phillips having trouble getting medical treatment for a sore shoulder and only getting aspirin. The medical examiner’s report said Phillips did not have a prescription for any drug while in jail.
The report said Phillips had a history of depression and anxiety, but there was no suicide note found. The report said last year Phillips asked his mother if his life insurance would pay benefits in the event of a suicide.
Medical personnel attempted to save Phillips. The autopsy report says he had a lip laceration, a contusion on his chest, and rib fractures that were “all due to intubation and attempted resuscitation.”
Phillips was ordered to stand trial on seven felony counts in a preliminary hearing held in June, 2008. Although there were five victims, two of them recanted previous statements about Phillips. Grasso said the victims were between the ages of nine to 12 years old. The charges said the molestation occurred in 2006 and 2007.
Phillips had pleaded not guilty and both sides said even before Phillips’ death that the case would only be resolved with a trial.
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