Files on killing reveal details, not motive


NASHUA - After setting fire to the house and bludgeoning his grandfather to death with a hatchet, Michael Phillips walked two miles up Broad Street and had breakfast with his other grandparents, according to police reports unsealed Monday. Phillips, 20, has been held without bail since his arrest last month on charges of first-degree murder and arson, stemming from the death of Franklin Phillips Sr., 68, and fire that gutted the Phillips home at 9 Natick St. The documents released this week at The Telegraph's request shed no light on any motive for the crime, but suggest that Phillips may suffer from mental health problems. The narrative by Detective Sgt. Michael Carignan also makes it sound as though the case was a relatively easy one for detectives to crack. According to the report, a neighbor called 911 after seeing smoke pouring from the chimney and ridge vents of the house at around 7 a.m. Dec. 18. Firefighters found Franklin Phillips in his bedroom, dead from numerous blows to the head with a sharp object, Carignan reported in his affidavit for search warrants. Police found a hatchet on the bedroom floor and seized it as evidence, along with numerous other items from the home, court records show. Neighbors told police that Phillips' grandson, Michael Phillips, also lived there, and Michael's 1997 Toyota Camry was parked in the driveway, Carignan wrote. Police also found his wallet and various other belongings in the house.Officer Jeffrey Lamarche found Phillips walking westward on Broad Street, back toward his house, at about 9 a.m., Carignan reported. The seat of his pants was wet, as if he'd been sitting on something wet. Phillips agreed to speak with Detectives Frank Bourgeois and Steve Sweeney at the police station, and Lamarche gave him a ride, Carignan wrote. Phillips gave the detectives a full confession, according to Carignan's affidavit, but if he offered any explanation, police chose not to mention it. Phillips was sober, he told police, but he was taking a drug usually prescribed for depression or anxiety, and another used to treat bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Phillips signed a Miranda form, waiving his rights to remain silent and consult a lawyer, and told detectives that he had gone out to a shed early that morning, gotten a hatchet and can of paint thinner, and brought them inside. Phillips told police he poured the paint thinner onto the living room rug, got some matches from the kitchen and lit it. As the flames began to spread, he walked upstairs, where his grandfather was still in bed, and attacked him with the hatchet, hitting him "multiple times" on the head. Phillips told police that his grandfather fell to the floor after the attack, Carignan reported. Carignan's affidavit doesn't specify where firefighters found his body, and it's not clear whether Franklin Phillips awoke and struggled during the attack. After killing his grandfather, Phillips told police, he walked to a nearby convenience store and then about two miles up Broad Street to 110 Coliseum Ave., where his maternal grandparents, Eugene and Madeline Straussberg live. The Straussbergs contacted police themselves, later that morning, and reported that Michael Phillips had been at the home earlier for breakfast. He showed up early and unannounced, ringing their buzzer at about 6:30 a.m., they told detectives. He said he'd just come to visit, since he hadn't seen them in a while, and they let him inside, and fed him breakfast, they told police. Michael Phillips didn't talk much, but that was normal for him, they said. They noticed he wasn't wearing a coat, so they loaned him a winter jacket and gloves, and when he left, they saw that he was on foot, which they thought was odd since he owned a car. Police took swabs of some furniture in their apartment, and gathered the contents of the sink traps to check for any evidence relating to the murder, such as traces of blood or paint thinner, Carignan reported. Police also took swabs from Phillips, to test his DNA. Prosecutors had sought to keep the arrest and search warrants and supporting affidavits sealed at the time of Phillips' arraignment, saying the information would hamper the ongoing investigation. After a hearing, however, Nashua District Court Judge Michael Ryan ordered the documents unsealed on Monday. The Telegraph got word of the ruling Wednesday. Phillips waived his right to a probable cause hearing on Dec. 31 in Nashua District Court, and he remains jailed, ineligible for bail because of the charge against him, while awaiting further hearings in Hillsborough County Superior Court.
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