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Missing evidence results in plea deal in Tulsa double murder

World Publishing Co., Tulsa World,
BYLINE: Staff Reports
Link to Article

Tulsa, OK

Phillip Anthony Summers

A Tulsa man who previously was sentenced to die in a double-murder case pleaded guilty Wednesday to a reduced charge in the case, which was affected by the unavailability of a key piece of evidence for a retrial.

Phillip Anthony Summers, 26, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder linked to the February 2004 killings of Shelly and Ples Vann Jr., who were each shot three times in their home at 38 E. 50th Place North.

In accordance with a plea agreement, Tulsa County District Judge William Kellough imposed two 30-year sentences, which will be treated as one 30-year term for prison purposes.

That state court sentence for murder also will run concurrently with Summers’ federal prison term of 54 years in other cases.

Attorneys said it is expected that Summers will serve his sentence in a federal prison and not in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

Jurors in 2008 found Summers guilty of two counts of first-degree murder for the Vanns’ deaths.

But in 2010, the state Court of Criminal Appeals granted a new trial, reversing those convictions and death sentences.

The appellate opinion said Summers’ right to a fair trial was violated when then-District Judge Tom Thornbrugh did not let a witness testify in support of Summers’ “alternative perpetrator” defense.

Before a retrial could be held, a Tulsa Police Department error led to the destruction of a handgun that prosecutors said was a murder weapon in the case.

Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris said the inadvertent destruction of that gun left prosecutors without the evidentiary use of “the murder weapon we believe was used by Phillip Summers.”

That was the “one piece of direct evidence that ties Summers to the death scene,” Harris said previously.

Summers waived his right to a retrial Wednesday, and Harris dropped the death-penalty request.

In pleading guilty to the reduced charge of second-degree murder, Summers took responsibility for the deaths of the Vanns, defense attorney Stan Monroe said.

In a document signed by the defendant, submitted in support of his guilty plea, Summers indicated that while in the commission of an assault and in the course of discharging a firearm with an intent to injure the Vanns, he caused their deaths.

In February, Tulsa County First Assistant District Attorney Doug Drummond filed notice that Summers could testify as a prosecution witness in murder cases involving the 2008 killing of Tulsa businessman Neal Sweeney.

In court Wednesday, Drummond said the plea agreement with Summers in the Vann case was not related to any cooperation by Summers in the Sweeney case.

Sweeney, 63, was fatally shot in 2008 at his business, Retail Fuels Marketing, 3158 S. 108th East Ave. One man has pleaded guilty, and three others are awaiting separate trials in that case.

Summers’ potential testimony at trials in the Sweeney case has him categorized as a jailhouse informant, a court document indicates.

At a hearing Wednesday, Summers said he hoped to get “possible consideration’’ in his federal cases but that “nothing is guaranteed.”

In federal court, Summers has been sentenced to 33 years in prison in connection with an unsuccessful plot to kill Sgt. Mike Huff, a now-retired Tulsa police homicide detective. That term runs consecutively with a 21-year prison sentence Summers got in 2008 for his role in a conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and marijuana.

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