Cemetery recovering from storm damage

August 2, 2012

Andrew Tobias

Staff Writer

A Delaware County judge on Monday sentenced a Columbus man who stole a gun from a Powell shooting range that was later used to shoot a Columbus police officer to four years in prison.

Common Pleas Judge Everett H. Krueger ordered Robert W. Phillips, 26, to also pay $1,076 in restitution to the Powder Room. Phillips had faced up to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty last month to a single first-degree felony grand theft count.

Last February, Phillips signed out a .40 caliber and 9 mm handguns under the name “John Smith” for target practice. He then told a clerk he was going to his car to get more ammunition and never came back.

Phillips then sold the guns to a friend, defense attorney Michael Hogue said in court Monday. The gun somehow ended up in the hands of a 17-year-old Columbus robbery suspect, who used the gun to shoot at a Columbus police officer. The bullet harmlessly deflected off the lucky officer’s taser.

Because of how the gun was used, and because of two recent theft convictions, Phillips deserved a severe sentence, said assistant prosecutor Eric Penkal.

“By stealing and dealing in off-market handguns, he should have known the weapon was not going to be used for peaceful purposes,” Penkal said.

Phillips was a prescription drug addict who was “duped” into stealing from the shooting range in exchange for $300, Hoague said. The Powder Room’s lenient sign-out policy was well-known among criminals, Hoague said.

“I can’t say the Powder Room caused this offense, but the fact that they are well-known for being cavalier with their loss prevention policies kind of facilitated this behavior,” Hoague said.

Phillips did not realize how serious of a crime he was committing when he decided to steal the gun, Hoague said. Because the Powder Room is a federally-licensed firearms dealer, a gun theft offense automatically falls under the most serious felony classification.

Krueger seemed sympathetic to Phillips’ addiction, making note of the “parade” of offenders addicted to prescription drugs who come through his court each day. However, the court needs to set an example to prevent others from committing the same types of crimes, he said.

“Others have to realize there are consequences to their actions, and what happened because of your actions were serious consequences,” Krueger said. “When the gun was used to shoot at a Columbus police officer, you are responsible for how that gun was used.”

Phillips apologized for his actions before the judge announced the sentence.

“When I made that mistake, it was the biggest mistake of my life,” Phillips said. “Honestly, I didn’t think anything like that would happen. I was sick (feeling addiction withdrawal symptoms) that day, and I was offered a way to make some money. I was an idiot.”

Kevin Miles, president of Crime Stoppers, earlier this year criticized the shooting range’s staff over the incident, questioning how a customer was able to walk out of the Powder Room with two guns without showing any identification. Gun ranges are not required to ask for ID, but Powell police say it is a good business practice.

Owner Bill Dixon told the Gazette in March that his business had used the same system to sign out guns for 38 years without any problems with theft.