DALLAS -- Brent William Phillips, accused of murdering Christopher Lindsay during an altercation at a West Salem bar in January, was found not guilty of all charges Monday.
He was released Monday afternoon, shortly after Polk County Circuit Court Judge William Horner rendered his verdict.
Phillips testified that he believed Lindsay intended to kill him during an altercation at the Fifty Pub & Grub on Jan. 24.
Both men had knives and Phillips, 33, said he had to come to the defense of another man in the bar, Daniel Dart, who Lindsay had been fighting with.
As the bartender struggled to subdue Dart, Phillips put a knife to Lindsay's throat.
He told Lindsay to drop his knife. According to Phillips, Lindsay then made an aggressive move, attempting to spin around.
"He tried to turn on me," Phillips said while testifying during his trial last week. He was facing charges of murder and unlawful use of a weapon in the incident. "His intention had to be to kill me.
"I didn't believe it was going to unfold like it did," Phillips said. "I decided to act."
He cut Lindsay's throat to the bone, according to Phillips, in an act of self-defense.
Lindsay later died of the wound.
Testimony last week painted two pictures of what happened at the bar, located at 935 Wallace Road NW.
Polk County District Attorney Stan Butterfield said the case was no "whodunit" because of the multiple witnesses.
"Phillips was more interested in posturing as a tough guy than the safety of everyone around him," Butterfield said.
Tom Bostwick, Phillips' attorney, said his client believed he was acting in defense of himself and others.
"There is evidence in the record to support both versions," Horner said before rendering his verdict.
But ultimately, Horner sided with the self-defense argument. Horner said Phillips had been a convincing witness and his description of the events matched what Horner believed occurred that night.
Horner indicated that the angle with which the security camera captured the altercation made it difficult to discern all of what happened, but he saw enough to convince him that Phillips acted out of self-defense.
"What can be seen is the movement of their lower bodies and it is consistent with Brent William Phillips' version," Horner said.
Many in the courtroom were shocked. There were tears from onlookers, both from those there for Phillips and friends of Lindsay's.
Photo by Pete Strong
Defense attorney Tom Bostwick, left, used the defense that Brent Phillips believed he was acting in self-defense of himself and others during an altercation on Jan. 24.
Butterfield was among those taken aback by the verdict.
"I'm amazed that the court found Brent Phillips a convincing witness and found him not guilty on the basis of self-defense," Butterfield said. "It was obvious that the court saw things in a different way than I did."
Friends of Lindsay's were in court to hear the verdict Monday. They left the courtroom shocked and angry.
"It's crazy," said Tara Levesque, a friend of Lindsay's family. "It's not right. I just can't believe he gets to go home and have cake.
"It's a great loss for us," she added, referring to Lindsay's death.
Brandon Baldwin, a close friend of Lindsay's, said he doesn't understand how Phillips' action could be viewed as self-defense.
"I don't know how you get self-defense when you run away," he said, shaking his head in disbelief.
As part of his defense, Bostwick said Phillips suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2008. Family and doctors said the effects have since changed his personality and limited his ability to reason in stressful situations, Bostwick said.
Bostwick argued that Phillips' injury caused a "mental defect" that altered his perception of what's happening around him. Expert witnesses for the defense and prosecution testified, coming to opposite conclusions on what impact the injury may have had on Phillips' judgment.
Testimony and court records showed that most of the parties involved in that fateful evening at the Fifty had been drinking. Bostwick also based part of Phillips' defense on voluntary intoxication -- he had a blood-alcohol level of .19 percent during the incident -- but Horner dismissed that as viable defense.
In his testimony, Phillips said neither alcohol or his injury affected his judgment.
According to testimony, Phillips and Emily Jenkins agreed to meet at the bar for a first date. They drank with others, including Lindsay, a friend of Jenkins' there by chance, and two men who wound up arguing with Phillips.
"It was kind of a pissing match -- males, testosterone and then alcohol is involved," said Spencer Hughes, a bartender, who testified.
Spencer and Lindsay stopped a pushing match between Dart and Phillips. Dart went to confront Phillips a second time outside. Lindsay got involved
and scuffled with Dart. Lindsay brandished a knife and cut Dart's hand.
"Then it was chaos," said Jenkins while on the stand.
As Hughes subdued Dart, Phillips stepped behind Lindsay, grabbed him, drew his own knife and slashed Lindsay's throat. Surveillance footage shows Lindsay stumbling into view, then collapsing to the ground; Phillips quickly leaves the scene.
Jenkins testified that Lindsay and Phillips didn't know one another and scarcely interacted before the knife play. As Phillips was being bothered, Lindsay assured her he would "back" Phillips in a fight, she testified.
Hughes, who tried to stop the bleeding, said the wound looked like "a bomb had gone off inside (Lindsay's) neck."
Butterfield said Monday that he isn't likely to file an appeal of the verdict.