A Wisconsin jury acquitted a La Crosse County wife for the hit-and-run death of her husband nearly four years ago.
Lori Phillips testified on her own behalf during the five-day trial that she didn’t remember what happened after a night of drinking in the winter of 2019 with her husband, Mark Phillips. Mark was found frozen to death in a snowbank.
Lori was facing up to 25 years in prison for a second-degree reckless homicide charge before a jury found her not guilty on Nov. 10 after four hours of deliberations.
The 56-year-old woman testified that her husband went to a local bar called Smoopy’s when he became physically violent. She said Mark was in a fit of jealousy over the attention she was receiving from other men that he strangled her while they were inside their truck that was parked in the bar’s parking lot.
Lori said her husband was “very inebriated.”
“Mark’s a different person when he’s drunk. Sober Mark wouldn’t have done that,” Lori said during cross-examination.
After she says she was strangled, they went back into the bar where bouts of shouting and fighting took place in front of others. This prompted the bartender to intervene, and they were told to leave.
Lori testified that she left her husband behind to stay at a hotel for the night. Data collected from her cell phone corroborated her account as did the surveillance footage. Hannah Kilenski, Lori’s friend and witness to the scene as Smoopy’s, testified in Lori’s defense that there were prior instances of abusive behavior that police should have records of that go back to Aug. 2018.
During cross-examination, La Crosse County prosecutors questioned Lori about inconsistencies in her statements to police. Regardless of the history of domestic violence within the Phillips’ marriage, prosecutors said that Lori’s statements to police from the crime scene made them question her involvement in Mark’s death.
“I was like ‘f*** this, and then I took off,’” Lori was quoted telling an investigator before driving off, leaving Mark behind at their home.
Mark’s cause of death was extensive blunt force trauma and “brain bleed,” according to the county’s medical examiner.
The judge presiding over Lori’s trial acknowledged the difficulties of a case like this when there’s a loss of life and the accused is found not guilty.
“I never know what to say to everybody about something like this,” Judge Elliot M. Levine said while closing off the proceedings. “This is very difficult. Now is a time to heal.”