PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Philadelphia father accused of "carelessly and recklessly" waving a gun around a small bedroom with seven children present before it went off, killing his 4-year-old daughter, has pleaded guilty to third-degree murder.
Maurice Phillips, 31, entered an open guilty plea Friday to homicide and 16 other counts including child endangerment, reckless endangerment, evidence-tampering and a weapons count, The Philadelphia Inquirer (http://bit.ly/2gxhK7Y ) reported. An open guilty plea means there's no agreement with prosecutors on a sentence.
Authorities said he aimed a .45-caliber pistol at the television in the Kensington home's bedroom in April 2016 and the weapon discharged, hitting Tahirah Phillips in the head. After the shooting, the other children became upset and began yelling, and Phillips struck his 5-year-old daughter and "wiped the blood from his hand onto her shirt" in an attempt to shift blame, investigators said. Police initially believed that the girl's sibling had fired the weapon.
Assistant District Attorney Gwenn Cujdik said had the case gone to trial, all four children who were in the room would have testified that Phillips shot the child. Prosecutors also had his DNA on the weapon, and the gun's safety lock was secured to a banister, Cujdik said.
After calling the children's mother, who was visiting a neighbor, Phillips left the house on a bicycle to try to visit his two sisters before surrendering to police several hours later. The children's mother called 911 after returning home, and homicide investigators "broke down" the defendant's story and he confessed that he had accidentally shot the girl, police said.
After the hearing, defense attorney Stephanie Fennell called the case a "heartbreaking, tragic accident." Another defense attorney, Francis Carmen, said Phillips was "incredibly remorseful" and had accepted responsibility, which Carmen called "the first step."
Carmen also said Phillips is legally disabled with an intellectual disability that puts him in the lower half of 1 percentile of the population, and "actually was a devoted father who spent all the time at home with his children."
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 5.
This story has been corrected to show Maurice Phillips is 31, not 30.