11/02/04 — Phipps family continues call for murder investigation

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Phipps family continues call for murder investigation

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on November 2, 2004 1:57 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The family of a man who was shot to death nine years ago asked Duplin County commissioners to support their call for a federal investigation into what they call a cover-up.

Monday morning was the second time Victoria Kornegay had addressed the commissioners. She is the daughter of Lacy Mitchell Phipps.

Phipps was driving the family's car on Sept. 5, 1995 when he and his son, William Henry Phipps, were shot in an ambush that took the life of his son and her brother. The first time Ms. Kornegay came before the commissioners was in 2002, when she told the board the murder scene was falsified and called for an investigation.

On Monday, Ms. Kornegay and her brother, V.R. Phipps, passed out a single sheet of information to the county commissioners and anybody else who would take one. It was printed on both sides.

"It states we can prove the murder of my brother was covered up, and one of the conspirators was your sheriff, Blake Wallace," said V.R. Phipps. "... I'm going to Washington, D.C., and we're going to start picketing the Capitol. We will shame you for not allowing some kind of investigation. ... All we need is an investigation, and you will not have a sheriff."

It was a conspiracy, said Ms. Kornegay. She demanded that something be done about it.

"This was a cover-up, and I want it handled," she said. "We've never had our day in court."

The information the family handed out said the elder Phipp's life was threatened, and that is why he did not show up in court.

It said Gov. Mike Easley, then attorney general for North Carolina, had agents standing by to take command of the investigation "within minutes of the murder."

It said the man tried for the murder, Jimmy Coley, was "a fall guy."

The murder

The investigators said Coley was the only gunman. On the day of the murder, the elder Phipps and his son had just passed a bridge on Warren Road near Bowdens. They were returning home from Kenansville. Shots rang out, and both were hit by gunfire. The elder Phipps survived.

Investigators said the 7 mm shots came from a tree behind the car. The family insists the shots came from two directions. They say two shooters were on the bridge behind the car, and another one was on an embankment beside the car.

In July 1996, an Onslow County jury found Coley not guilty by reason of insanity. Coley said he didn't remember anything that happened from shortly before the murder until about noon the following day. A psychologist said Coley had a mental breakdown because the Phipps family was terrorizing his parents.

The attack apparently resulted from a dispute over a property line near a 4-acre tract on Warren Road where the Phipps family lives. The dispute involved several families, including that of Jimmy Coley, whose parents lived and farmed near the Phipps family.

In their closing arguments, the defense lawyers said Coley had become obsessed with protecting his parents. They said in the five years preceding the attack, the Coley family had been shot at, their barn had been burned, their dogs poisoned, their yard vandalized, obscene gestures made, taunting, midnight pranks and other forms of harassment.

Wallace's answer

Duplin County Sheriff Blake Wallace said he's reluctant to even dignify the allegations with a comment, but "anybody who knows the Phipps family knows they have no concept of reality."

At the time the murder occurred, he said, the SBI and the Sheriff's Office utilized every resource available to them to investigate the case, arrest the murderer and bring him to justice, he said.

"At no time did the Phipps family cooperate with the investigation," he said. "Nor did Mr. Phipps even attend the trial. I want to make it very clear these allegations are lies."

Wallace said he doesn't know what the motivating factor is for them to pursue the matter, but the Phipps family has exhausted every avenue to try to get the matter investigated. In each case, he said, the matter was reviewed and no impropriety was found at any level by those who worked the case in 1995.

"I would welcome anybody to review the facts of this case and the actions taken by myself and others who investigated the case," he said. "I feel confident they will find that, if there was any improper behavior, it would have been on behalf of the Phipps family."