True's Story

Prosecutors dropped murder charges against Phillip True. Then he was thrown in jail.

The moment of truth and enduring tribulation for Phillip Leroy True III should have ended the night it began.

Shortly after 10:30 p.m. on September 7, 2001, the flashing red lights of a Minneapolis police car appeared in the rearview mirror of True's 1998 silver Plymouth Voyager. There were two other people in the vehicle as the van crossed Lake Street toward the southbound ramp of I-35W; True's 40-year-old cousin, Parrish Martin, was in the back seat; David Christianson, age 39, was sitting up front. As the police siren rang out, Christianson panicked. "Take off, man," he blurted out. "I might've just shot somebody."

According to Hennepin County Court records, this was the first True had heard of the shooting. And he answered Christianson with a single-word answer: "No." Then he pulled the van over. True would come to regard this as yet another in a series of wrong turns in his life.

In 1999, True had been riding in the front seat of a car when the driver fell asleep. In the ensuing accident, True was nearly broken in two, his back "severed like a razor blade had cut through every muscle and tendon that [he] had." "At first I had no feeling below the 12th vertebra; now it is up to the eighth. I can feel things around my stomach, but nothing below the waist," he says. When he talks about the injury, True stares straight ahead, his soft face framed by tight black curls and a goatee. "I do believe with the grace of God I'll walk again."

Six months before the crash, True had reunited with his longtime girlfriend, who, although they have never been married, refers to herself as Hope Swan True. The two have a seven-year-old daughter. "The accident was tough," Hope acknowledges. "I still have a hard time dealing with it. Real, real tough. People ask me why I stayed with him, and all I can answer is, he's charming, he's funny. We're best friends."

"After the accident, I wasn't going to be half a man, who couldn't support his family," True says. "I needed something to do and I found I could sit in my chair and frame and mat artwork and sell it to the schools." He opened up an art gallery--called Truly Unique--on Penn Avenue North in Minneapolis, and he outfitted his nearby house on Queen Avenue North with ramps and lifts. He also had his van customized so it could be driven using just his hands. "I was independent," he says simply.

Now the store is closed, the house is sold, and the independence is gone--all because of a chaotic series of events that began on that night in September.

A second-degree murder charge issued against True was dismissed in January. A lesser charge of being an accomplice to a crime after the fact was dismissed a month later. Now the 37-year-old is in the Hennepin County Workhouse because of something he didn't do.

In February, Judge Stephen Swanson sentenced True to a year and a day for failing to appear

at an earlier court hearing where his attorney was to argue--accurately, as it turns out--that there was not enough evidence to justify the charges against him.

Put simply, Phillip True is guilty of not showing up to prove his innocence. His saga is best summed up by Phillip Resnick, his defense attorney. "Phillip didn't trust the system to give him a fair shake. And subsequent events indicate that there was reason for him to think that way."

 

Around 10:00 p.m. on September 7, while a number of people were drinking beer at True's house, David Christianson asked True if he could drive him over to south Minneapolis to meet Thomas Marcum. Christianson says he didn't give a reason for the visit; True says it was his understanding that Christianson owed Marcum $20 and wanted to pay off the debt. True knew that Christianson had been friends with Marcum and his two brothers, Rick and William Marcum, for over 20 years. (In fact, Christianson and Thomas Marcum lived in the same Bloomington apartment building. And, according to Marcum's girlfriend, Holly Spikings, Christianson had once landed her boyfriend a job.)

A total of seven people piled into True's van. Three passengers were dropped off on the north side, leaving True, Christianson, Martin, and Martin's girlfriend Sandrya Groce as the remaining occupants. True then drove to south Minneapolis, where, at Christianson's request, he eventually made his way to the Marcum family home at 3437 Second Ave. S. True then parked in an alley kitty-corner to the house. Christianson walked up to the Marcum home to deliver some crack--payment for the $20 debt.

The following version of events comes from David Christianson's sworn testimony in Hennepin County Court on January 28, 2002.

Just before getting out of the van, Christianson turns to fellow passenger Martin and asks for a gun; True, who is on the phone and has his head turned, does not see this occur. (Christianson never revealed to the court how the gun got in the van. According to prosecutors, however, Christianson informed them the gun was his.)

Christianson believes he needs the gun because Thomas Marcum, with whom he had spoken on the phone throughout the day, has become increasingly agitated, anxious for drugs--to the point of threatening Christianson. (In a statement to police, Holly Spikings would confirm that Marcum's intensive drug use had begun to make him paranoid.)

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