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Witness: Moore Man Gunned Down 4 People

Posted September 12, 2007

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— A Moore County man shot and killed four people in a December 2003 robbery, a woman who survived the attack testified Wednesday.

Mario Lynn Phillips, 35, is the first of three people charged with murder and robbery in the quadruple homicide case to go to trial. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against him, and observers said the trial could last six weeks.

Eddie Ryals, 21, Carl Garrison Justice, 18, and Harvey Darrell Hobson, 20, all of Carthage, and Joseph Allen Harden, 19, of Vass, were killed on Dec. 19, 2003, in a mobile home on Heron Road east of Carthage. All four had been shot and stabbed in what authorities said was a robbery – the three suspects made off with $170.

Amanda Cook Varner testified Wednesday morning that she, the four victims and suspects Phillips, Renee Yvette McLaughlin and Sean Maurice Ray were sitting in Ryals' living room when Phillips jumped up, demanded drugs and money and began shooting.

Phillips then convinced McLaughlin to assist him in the slayings, Varner said. Authorities have said McLaughlin aided in the crime and Ray stabbed the victims and set the mobile home on fire with a cigarette lighter.

Varner, who was 15 at the time, was shot twice, stabbed 22 times and left to die outside the mobile home, which was set on fire in an attempt to destroy the crime scene.

Phillips, who lived with his mother across the street from the mobile home, was arrested a few hours after the incident. McLaughlin and Ray were also quickly apprehended.

Defense attorney Bruce Cunningham is trying to save Phillips' life by convincing jurors that he shouldn't be convicted of first-degree murder in the case. Cunningham said Phillips is mentally ill, was addicted to drugs at the time and somehow thought his friends were responsible for shooting his brother in Fayetteville earlier that same day.

Veta Justice, Carl Justice's mother, said the death penalty would be too good for Phillips.

"My son suffered. The other three boys suffered," Justice said. "They didn't get a needle in their arm and get to go to sleep and have it all numbed."

The trial had been expected to start Tuesday, but an issue with one of the jurors prompted a delay.

The juror said her employer threatened to fire her if she missed work because of jury duty. The employer denied the allegation, but the woman was replaced on the jury.