Jury finds Yeiter guilty of capital murder in 2014 Sellersville case

Published 7:13 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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It took Escambia County jurors less than an hour to find Brett Richard Yeiter guilty of capital murder on Tuesday. Yeiter was convicted of the 2014 murder of his father-in-law Paul Phillips outside of the Book of Acts Church. The penalty phase that will determine if Yeiter will be sentenced to life without parole or capital punishment will begin today at 9 a.m.

Testimony began Friday and the grandson of Phillips and one of the last people to see Phillips alive, Nathan Blair, testified that his then stepfather Yeiter physically assaulted and antagonized Phillips on the day of the shooting, Oct. 27, 2014.

During Blair’s testimony, he said that his truck, which Yeiter helped him purchase, needed oil on Oct. 26, 2014, but he couldn’t find anyone who had oil, so he decided to leave his truck overnight at the Book of Acts church, which is the church Phillips pastored.

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The morning of the shooting Blair and Phillips picked up oil for the truck from the store and drove to the church. Blair said he had been living with his grandfather rather than living with his mother and stepfather because he didn’t get along with his stepfather. Yeiter was waiting at the church for them.

Blair said that Yeiter was visibly upset with both Blair and Phillips but especially Phillips. Blair said that while Phillips poured the oil into Blair’s truck, Yeiter shoved and yelled at Phillips. Yeiter then snatched Phillips’ glasses from Phillips’ face and threw them to the ground, Blair said.

Blair said Phillips gave him a light bill to take to a property up the road from the church to a home Phillips was renting out. Blair said he believes his grandfather gave him the bill to get him away from the scene.

When pulling out from the church, Blair said he accidently went the wrong direction and had to do a U-turn. Once he completed the U-turn, Blair passed Yeiter on the road while Yeiter drove to his home which was less than half a mile away from the scene to pick up his shotgun. Blair then stopped to tell his grandfather that he had a bad feeling. Blair said Phillips told him to go drop of the bill and reassured Blair that he will be there when Blair got back.

When Blair drove back to the church after dropping off the bill, he heard a gunshot. Blair then parked across the street from the church and saw Yeiter flee from the scene. Blair went to the passenger side door to his grandfather’s truck and found Phillips with a bullet wound to the head. Blair then went back to the tenant’s home to call authorities.

The cousin of Yeiter’s wife at the time Tony Casey testified that Yeiter came into her business and told her he had shot Phillips and asked for her to call 911. Casey said Yeiter was tearing up and said “I really did it.”

When the defense cross examined Casey, they asked her about a comment she reportedly said during her 911 call: “They finally pushed him over the edge.” Casey said she does not recall saying that phrase, but said if she did, then by “him” she would be referring to Yeiter.

Escambia County Sheriff Capt. Greg Forbes and the then-Sheriff Grover Smith were the first officers to arrive at the scene. In both of their testimonies, they said Phillips was still breathing when they arrived. Testimony at trial revealed Phillips was facing forward in the driver’s seat when he was shot on the left side of his head.

Forbes took several photos of the scene including photos that show Phillips’ seatbelt was on and the truck was running. Smith instructed another officer to apply pressure to the wound while they waited until the ambulance arrived. Phillips died shortly after the ambulance arrived.

In the closing statements, defense attorneys Charles Johns Jr. and Kevin McKinley portrayed Yeiter as remorseful and the murder of Phillips justifiable by self-defense. Testimony and evidence showed Phillips didn’t have any weapons on him at the scene. District Attorney Steve Billy portrayed Yeiter as a remorseless coward.