Kent jury to decide whether Phillip killed Seth Frankel

Seth Frankel worked as a video program coordinator for the city of Kent. He was killed in May 2010 at his Auburn home. - Kent Reporter, file photo
Seth Frankel worked as a video program coordinator for the city of Kent. He was killed in May 2010 at his Auburn home.
— image credit: Kent Reporter, file photo

A King County Superior Court jury began deliberations Tuesday afternoon in Kent about whether William L. Phillip Jr., stabbed to death Seth Frankel on May 21, 2010 in Frankel's Auburn home he shared with Bonny Johnson, a woman each man loved.

Family and friends of Frankel, 41, a city of Kent employee, were in court Tuesday morning to hear closing arguments in front of the jury by Senior Deputy Prosecutor Wyman Yip and defense attorney Anuradha Luthra. The trial lasted six weeks.

Yip portrayed Phillip, 33, of Portland, Ore., as a man who wanted to return to a romantic relationship with Johnson and went so far as to kill Frankel in an effort to get back together with her. Yip said the evidence of a towel found near the murder scene with the DNA of Phillips, cellphone records and text messages prove Phillip committed the crime.

"We have a person high on adrenaline who was amped up," Yip said about a phone call Phillip made to a friend after the death of Frankel. "(A friend) took it as being amped up about (Portland Timbers) soccer. I suggest to you he was amped up because he accomplished what he set out to do, to murder Seth Frankel.

"His text message to Bonny later that evening (after the killing) bared that same mark, the mark of premeditated murder. He complimented her about how she sounded on the radio after killing her boyfriend."

Yip said "the defendant has to be found guilty because it's the only conclusion that makes sense."

Phillip faces a first-degree murder charge. He pleaded not guilty to the charge in March 2011 after his arrest by Auburn Police in December 2010 in Portland.

Luthra told the jury that the state was "trying to put a square peg in a round hole," by blaming Phillip for the murder.

"Not a single witness can put Mr. Phillip in Mr. Frankel's house on the night Mr. Frankel was killed," Luthra said. "Not a single witness can tell you that Mr. Phillip knew where Mr. Frankel lived or worked or even knew his last name. Not a single witness can give you a reason why Mr. Phillip would kill Mr. Frankel."

Luthra said the state charged "the wrong person," simply because Phillip couldn't be excluded from being in Auburn the night Frankel was killed. She said police failed to investigate other people who might have committed the murder.

A neighbor to Frankel testified that a corner house was a known drug house. Detectives didn't talk to anyone at the house, Luthra said.

"Maybe someone from the drug house that was high on meth came to the house and had a confrontation with Mr. Frankel and figures out he wasn't who they were looking for and they fight and there's a tragic result," Luthra said. "The police have said because nothing was stolen from the house so it must have been personal to Mr. Frankel. But there was a lot of evidence ignored. Maybe because they found the love triangle or love square intriguing so they ignored other possibilities."

Yip said cellphone records put Phillip in Kent on May 21, 2010 just before Frankel got off work from his job at City Hall as a video program coordinator. The records from cell towers also put Phillip in Auburn, just four blocks from Frankel's home.

"Miss Luthra likes to make a lot of movie and TV references," Yip said during a rebuttal to the defense attorney's closing argument. "This is real life. This isn't about police putting a GPS tracker on the defendant so we can track every movement he makes. This is good police work. They got his phone numbers. These are records kept by multi-billion dollar companies. They're not in the business of tracking but these records are very helpful in the investigation."

Yip's movie and TV comment referenced to Luthra mentioning the movies "Legally Blonde," and "Full Metal Jacket," as well as the TV show, "Modern Family," during her closing. Luthra used "Legally Blonde," as an example of an accused killer who didn't testify. Phillip did not testify.

"You've heard his story through conversations with police and text messages," Luthra said. "You have his voice and story. He had nothing to hide and nothing to prove."

Phillip traveled to Auburn from Oregon on May 21, 2010 just to get away because he recently had lost a family member and friend, Luthra said. She said his best friend's sister lived in Federal Way. She claimed the cellphone towers aren't necessarily accurate and that Phillip could have been at an Auburn bar or restaurant rather than Frankel's house when cell records showed him in town.

Yip said it's tough to believe the defense's argument that Phillip just happened to be in Kent and Auburn on the same night that Frankel was killed because he took a drive from Oregon after being upset.

"He's on his way to see his friend's sister in Federal Way but he didn't go to Federal Way he goes to Auburn," Yip said. "He must be the unluckiest man in the universe. And on the one day he goes to Auburn it's this day. And the one day he goes to Auburn he travels to Kent first at the time that Seth Frankel gets off of work. That's how unlucky he is."

The towel found near Frankel's body had a blood spot the size of a grain of rice that included DNA from Phillip and Frankel. Yip said for detectives that was like finding "a needle in the haystack."

The defense argued that DNA from Phillips could have been transferred to the towel back when Phillips dated Johnson in Portland. When Johnson moved in with Frankel, she moved furniture from Oregon to Auburn.

Yip said that's another argument hard to believe that somehow an unrelated DNA transferred occurred.

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