Two brothers accused of holding a man at gunpoint and forcing him to dig his own grave pleaded guilty to kidnapping charges last week.
Michael J. Phillips, 26, and Tommy J. Phillips, 30, of Vilonia were each initially charged with kidnapping, attempted capital murder and first-degree terroristic threatening. The brothers entered a negotiated plea deal Dec. 1, pleading guilty to kidnapping, while other charges against them were dropped. Because not all witnesses were available, prosecutors were able to seek justice by offering this deal, Prosecuting Attorney Luke Ferguson said.
"Unfortunately, each case comes down to how each element or each offense can be proven in court," he said. "When considering the lack of witness availability and cooperation, which were significant factors in these cases, we believe the guilty pleas were appropriate outcomes. Fortunately, these pleas ensure that neither defendant will be back in Faulkner County for at least some period of time."
At a previous pretrial hearing, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Colin Wall informed the court he was having a difficult time getting the victim, Jonathan Lewis, who was the key witness, to cooperate with the prosecutor’s office.
It had become impossible to reach Lewis over time.
Michael pleaded guilty to a 10-year prison sentence for his involvement in the case. His brother, Tommy, pleaded guilty to a 15-year sentence, which also includes an additional five-year suspended sentence.
"These cases provide a prime example of the type of violent and out of control behavior that has no place in our community," Ferguson said.
The brothers were initially charged following a Jan. 21 incident where the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office was called out to a possible kidnapping on Brannon Landing, near Mayflower.
A woman called 911, stating two or three men forced her boyfriend to get into a dark grey Nissan at gunpoint and headed toward Highway 365, according to an incident report.
Deputies learned that the Phillips brothers were suspected of having kidnapped the victim and taking him to a residence on Allen Drive.
Tommy fled into the woods before FCSO made it to the location, but the victim, Michael and another man were on scene when deputies arrived.
Deputies found a shovel, green chainsaw, black ax and "freshly disturbed dirt" near the "beginning of a hole in the ground" while searching the area, according to the report.
Michael was arrested om scene and Tommy turned himself in a few days later.
Ferguson said he was glad sheriff’s deputies responded quickly in this matter.
"The Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office did a very good job in responding to the incident and presenting the case to our office."