MANASSAS No one other than Shirley Elaine Phillips knows how often Alfred N. Phillips may have abused his wife.
But the 40-year-old Dale City woman, who gave conflicting statements on amount of the abuse, will spend a vast portion of her life behind bars for lighting her husband afire in their town house and causing his painful death.
Prince William Circuit Court Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. sentenced Phillips on Friday to 23 years in prison following her guilty pleas in November to charges of second-degree murder and arson.
Phillips poured a petroleum liquid on her husband and lit him on fire about 9 p.m. May 25 in the upstairs bedroom of their home on North Park Court.
Alfred Phillips ran down the stairs, lighting household furniture on fire on the way, and later died at Washington Hospital Center from thermal burns to 95 percent of his body.
Neighbors who rushed to the house say they saw Alfred Phillips run out the front door engulfed in a blue blaze, screaming, “Oh my God, Im burning!”
Following her arrest, Shirley Phillips told police her husband abused her once, but later said the abuse happened repeatedly.
Her attorney, Todd S. Baldwin, said Friday that she misspoke when she said there was one incident of abuse.
“She had been abused many times,” Baldwin told the judge during Fridays sentencing hearing. Alfred Phillips choked his wife and threatened to kill her, he said.
Shirley Phillips was abused by her husband the morning of his death, Baldwin said.
Shirley Phillips was “on the verge of suicide” because of the mistreatment, he said. In addition to physical attacks, her husband called her names such as “whore,” Baldwin said.
But Assistant Commonwealths Attorney James A. Willett said he wonders whether the murder was the result of a history of abuse, or Shirley Phillips selfishness.
Relatives of Alfred Phillips said he was not the type of person to abuse his wife. Alfred Phillips may have had a second wife in Jamaica.
“You have to wonder what type of pain and abject terror Mr. Phillips suffered,” Willett said. “This woman should not have the opportunity to live a full and meaningful life.”
The judge agreed.
“In all my years I have never seen a murder as grisly,” Millette told Phillips, who wore a blue T-shirt as she stood next to her attorney.
Millette sentenced Phillips to 40 years in prison with 17 years suspended on the second-degree murder charge, leaving her with 23 years to serve.
He sentenced her to 10 years for arson, but that sentence will run alongside the 23-year sentence.
Phillips will spend eight years on probation and receive mental health counseling after her release from prison. Because Virginia has abolished parole, she will be required to serve at least 85 percent of the 23-year sentence.
Phillips apologized before the judge imposed his decision.
“My relationship with my husband was very abusive … so I ask the court to have mercy on me,” she said. “I know I have to pay the consequences for what Ive done.”
Alfred and Shirley Phillips, both from Jamaica, had been married several years. Shirley Phillips, a registered nurse, called 911 after lighting him on fire, and told the dispatcher he used her to get to the United States.
During the 911 call, she said several times, “Ive had enough.”