True's Story

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

Later, this apparently specious excuse would prove to have some merit. But in the meantime, the court declared that True was in violation of the terms of his conditional release and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest on December 11.

"I couldn't go back to jail," True contends. "I was in the process of trying to sell my house. I owed my attorney $25,000. I wasn't going to face no murder charge with no public defender. The prisons are full of innocent people. I wasn't going to be one of them. So I went on the run."

 

Erin Eitter Kono

Ironically, while True was a fugitive, the murder charge against him fell apart. More specifically, prosecutors had gotten Christianson's version of events, which was proving plausible enough to make a murder conviction against either man difficult. So they decided to strike a plea bargain that had Christianson copping to second-degree manslaughter. That plea was entered and accepted on January 28. Christianson's court testimony on that date is what has been cited in this story. He was eventually sentenced to ten years in prison.

By pleading out to second-degree manslaughter, Christianson legally admitted that he had acted recklessly and with negligence in causing the death of Marcum. But the crucial difference between second-degree manslaughter and second-degree murder involves intent.

Simply put, by accepting the plea, prosecutors were conceding that Christianson did not intend to kill Marcum. Consequently, True couldn't have intended to kill him either, and the murder charge against him would have to be dropped.

On January 14, two weeks before Christianson's plea was rendered, prosecutors already knew True's murder charge was about to become moot. As a fall-back position, they added the lesser charge of being an "accomplice after the fact." "We knew the factual basis of Christianson's case was moving in a certain direction, and that motivated [the lesser charge]," says Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Paul Scoggin. "Cases play out and you adjust accordingly."

Not coincidentally, this charge was added just 24 hours before a hearing was scheduled to review Resnick's motion to dismiss the murder charge against True for lack of probable cause. True didn't show up. The hearing was postponed.

On February 11, the date originally set for True's murder trial, he came out of hiding. During his time as a fugitive, he managed to sell his house and two of his three vehicles. "My court date was on a Monday, and I think it was the Friday before that I finally got the money together to pay my attorney," he says.

Instead of a trial on February 11, however, the court ruled on matters still pending from the aborted January 15 hearing; the murder charge against True was dropped and it was decided that a trial would be held to determine whether he was an accomplice after the fact. True had to post an additional $25,000 in bail. He subsequently violated the terms of his bail by testing positive for drugs on his urinalysis. This time, he was picked up and taken back to jail.

There was reason to suppose that True had been wantonly using drugs all this time. In 1991, he was convicted of second-degree cocaine possession; seven years later, he was convicted in California for possession of a controlled substance. It's also worth nothing that Christianson, with whom True had spent many hours on September 7, testified that he had personally used about $400 worth of crack on the night he shot Marcum.

But True steadfastly maintains that he was clean, that his catheter was somehow creating false-positive test results. "Why would I do drugs right after I'm put on home monitoring for the second time, after all I'd gone through?" he asks. To prove he wasn't lying, he got Resnick to have the court order another urinalysis while he was in jail. On March 4, after six days behind bars, a test actually showed higher levels of cocaine in his system than before he was incarcerated. True was subsequently released.

At the time he was jailed for the dirty urine tests, True was awaiting sentencing on a plea agreement he reached with prosecutors on February 25. Under the terms of the agreement, True pleaded guilty for "release failure to appear," the legal way of admitting he didn't show up for his January 15 hearing. In return, prosecutors agreed to drop the accomplice-after-the-fact charge and ensure that his sentence on the failure-to-appear charge would be no more than one year (the maximum sentence in such a case would be two and a half years); True and Resnick hoped and expected it would be no more than a few months.

At the April 9 sentencing hearing, Resnick made his argument to Judge Swanson. "The offense that [True] has pled guilty to...is really tantamount to a contempt of court charge. Defendants are told that if they don't show up when they are supposed to show up, they are going to be held in contempt of court and normally, under state case law, the maximum sentence for somebody that is held in contempt of court is 90 days. The maximum that the Court has approved is a sentence of six months for egregious conduct involving the contempt of court." Resnick then pointed out that his client had been forced to sell his house and already spent 40 days in jail: "I think that Mr. True has been punished more than enough for an offense that, under the law and under the facts, he should not have been charged with in the first place."

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