Kentucky murder was bias-motivated, supsect's family says
August 28 2003 12:00 AM ET
A man charged with the murder of another man, whose body was found stuffed in a suitcase, admitted that he killed the victim because he dislikes gay people, the suspect's relatives told police. Josh Cottrell's aunt and cousin told Kentucky state police that Cottrell told them he had planned to kill Guinn "Richie" Phillips because Phillips was gay. Relatives said Cottrell strangled Phillips after Phillips made a pass at him in an Elizabethtown motel where Cottrell was staying, according to documents filed in Breckinridge circuit court.
Phillips, of Rineyville, Ky., disappeared June 17. His body was found in a suitcase on June 25 in Rough River Lake. The records also show that Phillips's mother, Margie Phillips, told police when she reported her son missing that she feared he had been harmed because he was gay.
Cottrell, 22, is in the Breckinridge County Jail in lieu of a $500,000 bond. He has been indicted on charges of murder, robbery, tampering with physical evidence, and being a persistent felon. In Kentucky, committing a crime against another person because of the victim's sexual orientation is considered a hate crime. Under the hate-crimes law that took effect July 14, 2000, if a judge determines at sentencing that bias against the victim's race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, or religion was a "primary factor" in the commission of the offense, that fact can be used to deny probation or parole. Commonwealth's Attorney Kenton Smith, who is prosecuting Cottrell, had said that he did not plan to pursue hate-crime charges against him.
After Cottrell's arrest on June 27, his aunt, Wendy McAnly, told state police detective Mike Romagnoli that Cottrell had confessed to the crime more than a week earlier but that family members initially had not believed him. "Josh told Wendy and her sister that he hit a guy who made a pass at him," Romagnoli said. "Later still he would tell them that he killed a guy and put him in a suitcase."
Cottrell told his aunt that he had invited Phillips to an Elizabethtown motel room where he was staying, according to Romagnoli's statement. When Phillips arrived, Cottrell asked Phillips if he liked him without his shirt, and when Phillips said yes and touched him, Cottrell told his aunt that he "then put him in a headlock and choked him," the statement went on to say.
McAnly's sister, Christine Atwood, told two other investigators that Cottrell had confessed to hitting and then choking Phillips to death in the motel room, according to the report. Cottrell's cousin Tara Rene Gaddie of Cecilia, Ky., told police on June 26 that Cottrell had confessed to killing Phillips after "he made a move on him and he hit him," according to the report.
Rob Dewitt, a friend of Phillips, told police that he had introduced Phillips to Cottrell about three years ago. On June 11 Cottrell bought a set of soft-sided luggage at the Elizabethtown JCPenney. He told Dewitt he was planning to travel. A witness also told police that she saw Cottrell and Phillips together in Phillips's truck the day of the alleged murder. Authorities theorize that Cottrell killed Phillips between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.