Two days before Christmas, a mother of five stood in front of a Bibb County Superior Court judge.
Almost certainly, 31-year-old Tasha Yolanda Phillips is destined to spend Christmas at the county jail, accused of running down her youngest baby’s father, killing him with her car May 9.
In her argument that a bond should be set for Phillips, lawyer Debra Gomez described the relationship between Phillips and 24-year-old Martegus Johnson, the man she’s accused of killing.
“She was terrified of this man,” Gomez told the judge.
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Gomez said Phillips has a strong battered woman’s defense, arguing the killing was justified. She may also argue self-defense.
During a Tuesday hearing in Bibb County Superior Court, Gomez said one of Phillips’ friends witnessed Johnson assaulting Phillips several times. On a dozen occasions, the friend was on the phone with Phillips when she heard Johnson attacking her and Phillips “begging for help,” Gomez said.
A neighbor has been interviewed about 100 incidents of physical and mental abuse that she saw in the front yard of the Duncan Avenue home where Phillips and Johnson lived, Gomez said. In one of the incidents, the neighbor said she knew Phillips was pregnant when she saw Johnson chasing her with a brick.
“This man was chasing Miss Phillips with a brick, threatening to literally beat the fetus out of her body,” Gomez said.
Phillips was seven months pregnant with Johnson’s baby when surveillance cameras captured video of her Ford Explorer speeding up and running over Johnson in the Pio Nono Avenue post office parking lot.
She delivered the baby May 22 at a local hospital while in jail custody.
After hearing about 30 minutes of arguments Tuesday, Judge Phillip Raymond said he wanted to review the case further. It’s possible another hearing will be held before a decision is made.
A POSSIBLE FLIGHT RISK
Prosecutor Jimmy Daniels argued against a bond being set for Phillips, who has been in custody since her May 11 arrest.
Because she was indicted on June 17, within 90 days of her arrest, she isn’t automatically entitled to bond, he said.
“She should not get a bond,” Daniels said. “The state opposes a bond.”
He said a fight preceded Phillips running Johnson down with her car. An adult witness was in the car, along with Phillips’ 4-year-old son.
Gomez said Johnson had threatened to kill Phillips and her son during the argument.
Daniels said evidence will show the witness and Johnson got out of the car, and Phillips drove toward the post office.
For some reason, Johnson walked toward the post office, Daniels said.
Johnson was running away when he was run over, he said.
He argued Phillips will be a danger to the community if she’s released on bond, and she is a flight risk.
After being convicted of shoplifting in 2005, she failed to comply with her probation terms, Daniels said.
In 2001, she was on bond for a shoplifting case in her native Virginia when she fled to Georgia, he said.
Daniels posed the question, “If she is going to flee the jurisdiction in one place on a misdemeanor shoplifting, what do you think she will do for an indictment where she faces malice murder?”
Gomez said the 2001 warrant was the result of a “misunderstanding” in which Phillips didn’t pay money owed to resolve the case. Although her parents still live in Virginia, Phillips has lived in Georgia for 10 years and has strong ties to the area.
Daniels also expressed concern about Phillips’ alleged attempt to tamper with evidence.
One of her friends told police Phillips called and asked her to come get her son and hide her Explorer before officers arrived.
Gomez said the vehicle was found parked behind her house, her home of record.
Phillips additionally is being held on charges stemming from her allegedly receiving money from stolen credit cards in an identity fraud and racketeering scheme.
Gomez said she has evidence that four allegedly illegal deposits to Phillips’ jail account were made by her father, not by the scheme’s perpetrators.
Authorities have alleged inmates agreed to accept deposits from stolen credit cards with the understanding that they would pay back a portion to a core group involved in the scheme.
Phillips’ father kept records that will exonerate her, Gomez said.
Gomez also presented evidence to the judge that Phillips was tested for drugs at the hospital and by law enforcement soon after her arrest. The screenings didn’t show any drug use.
A prosecutor previously has said Phillips admitted recent drug use in a meeting with a Georgia Division of Family and Children Services case worker hours before she ran over Johnson.
HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
Buttressing Phillips’ argument for battered woman syndrome, Gomez presented the judge with an overview of Johnson’s alleged violent history.
On July 13, 2013, a little more than a year before Johnson was killed, Phillips called the police at 7:04 a.m. about a domestic dispute. When officers arrived, Phillips’ nose was busted. She was still bleeding and had a swollen forehead.
Gomez said Johnson and his mother had assaulted her. A neighbor witnessed the incident.
Afraid, Phillips didn’t tell police that she knew the people who hurt her.
Phillips called police later that morning -- and a neighbor called, too -- after someone in a car fired four gunshots. Police found Phillips hiding under her bed, Gomez said.
Afraid, she refused to press charges.
Gomez showed the judge a folder filled with what she said was more than 300 pages of incident reports involving Johnson’s interactions with women.
In 2007, Johnson was charged with kidnapping, aggravated stalking, theft by taking auto and obstruction after an argument with the mother of one of his children. The woman told police Johnson chased and threatened to kill her.
She asked Johnson to leave, and he kidnapped her infant, Gomez said. The woman also was pregnant with another one of his children at the time, Gomez said.
“He said he would do the exact same thing with their child when the child was born,” Gomez said. Bibb County Superior Court records don’t reflect an indictment in the case.
On Valentine’s Day 2008, Johnson was charged with aggravated assault and burglary after he allegedly threatened to kill the grandchildren of a Beech Avenue man. The man spotted Johnson pointing a gun at his family and shot Johnson, Gomez said. Court records don’t reflect Johnson being indicted.
On Nov. 20, 2008, Johnson was charged with theft by taking auto after trying to run over a woman with a car, Gomez said. Court records show he pleaded guilty to theft by receiving auto and was sentenced to a stint in a detention center.
In another incident, a woman alleged in October 2010 that Johnson put a gun in her mouth.
Phillips, likewise, has alleged Johnson had a habit of putting weapons in her mouth.
She has a scar on her bottom lip from where Johnson held a gun to her mouth, Gomez said.
“We can show a pattern and practice of violence against women, specifically women he’s been involved in relationships (with), a pattern of threatening them with a very similar pattern that Tasha Phillips will put forth at trial,” Gomez said.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.