True's Story

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

After William Marcum lets him into the house, Christianson sits down and briefly watches television with some of Marcum's younger relatives. Then Rick Marcum enters the room and the two friends greet each other with a hug. Thomas Marcum comes downstairs and he and Christianson retreat to the backyard to exchange drugs for money. Christianson asks Marcum why he has been threatening him. Marcum then punches him in the jaw. Christianson pulls the gun from the waistband of his Minnesota Gophers sweatpants and shoots into the ground as a means of warning Marcum to keep a safe distance.

"What are you going to do? Shoot me?" Marcum says, and again hits Christianson in the face.

"I seen stars and I felt his body right up against mine," Christianson testifies later. "And then the gun went off and I heard him go, 'Oh,' so I took off running." The bullet passes through Marcum's heart, killing him before he can be rushed to a hospital. As Christianson runs away, his old friend Rick Marcum runs to the backyard and shouts after him: "You are dead!"

Christianson climbs back into the van and says to True, "Okay, man, I've gotta go. Take me to the freeway." True briefly gets on northbound I-35W, takes the first exit and drops Sandrya Groce off at her residence on the 3100 block of Clinton Avenue South. Meanwhile, one of the Marcum brothers calls the police, describes True's van, and notes that the license plate has a wheelchair icon. As True travels from Groce's house to the southbound ramp to the highway at 31st and Stevens Avenue South, a squad car notices the plate and the description of the van. The lights and siren go on and, despite Christianson's plea to keep going, True pulls over. Three days later, True and Christianson are charged with second-degree murder.

 

The murder complaint issued against True on September 10, 2001 is based on a much different scenario than Christianson's.

While searching the van that night, the police dislodged a gold-colored, semi-automatic handgun with a black handle that had been hidden in the passenger seat. In an interview with police shortly after the van was stopped, Martin said that True owned two handguns, one of them a gold semi-automatic with a black handle. In addition, the Marcum family's neighbors, as well as both of the victim's brothers, claim that True's van sped out of the alley with its lights off. What's more, the police reported that just after pulling the van over they could still smell gunpowder. The inference: True not only provided the gun and the getaway car; he knew the crime had occurred.

Phillip Resnick, who has decades of experience as a criminal-defense attorney, calls the case against True "the thinnest murder charge I have ever seen." If True was knowingly driving the "getaway" vehicle, for instance, it would make no sense for him to drop off Groce and then double back in the direction of the crime scene--let alone pull over, against Christianson's entreaties, at the first sign of the police. As for Martin's statement about the gun, Resnick emphasizes that "all he said was that True might have had a gun like that."

Indeed, Martin never saw True give Christianson a weapon or even handle a gun that night. During that first police interview on September 7, Martin does say he saw Christianson stuffing something into the seat when he got back to the van. Martin also noted that when Christianson was away from the van, the stereo was on and the windows were rolled up.

True's bail was initially set at $500,000 and he was assigned a public defender. After a couple of weeks in jail, True hired Resnick, who returned to court and got his client's bail reduced to $75,000. There was a catch, however. The original bail arrangement would've allowed True to move freely in the community from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; the reduced bail agreement stipulated that he be on round-the-clock electronic home monitoring, abstain from drugs and alcohol, submit to random breathalyzer and urinalysis tests, and be in contact with a court official twice weekly. According to the agreement True signed, he was also required to appear at all scheduled court appearances--failure to do so would result in additional charges.

A few months after his release, True found himself in a financial bind: To post bail and pay attorney fees, he needed $35,000. The conditions of his bail were altered on October 16 to allow him six appointments for the purpose of his art sales, but required verification and approval of his whereabouts by a court officer. True maintained that it was impossible to complete a sale when potential customers, who worked in the public schools, knew they were dealing with someone out on bail for murder.

Before long, True had something even more serious to worry about: his urinalysis was coming back positive for cocaine and marijuana. "I don't pee like other people. I have a catheter," True explains. "For some reason, something happens in the process that tests me positive. The first time I got out of jail I tested dirty, but the guy [giving the test] was all right with it because when I asked for an instant test it came back with just traces [of drugs]. I was dirty two or three other times, but when I asked for an instant test a second time, it came back traces."

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