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Holmen woman pleads not guilty in husband's death
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Holmen woman pleads not guilty in husband's death

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A Holmen woman accused of killing her husband pleaded not guilty Monday during a preliminary hearing in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

Lori Ann Phillips, 50, was charged last month with second-degree reckless homicide in connection with the incident the night of Feb. 22, 2019. She was accused of fatally hitting her husband, 48-year-old Mark Phillips, with his truck while driving away after they argued last year.

Judge Elliott Levine ruled Monday that there was probable cause to bind her over for trial.

Phillips’ attorney, Chris Zachar, argued Monday that prosecutors did not have enough evidence to charge his client with homicide.

“There are huge problems with causation in this case,” Zachar said. “The state of Wisconsin is literally relying on the assumption that this must have happened because they don’t have another explanation.”

Zachar emphasized that the vehicle wasn’t damaged and the only fibers found on the outside of the truck were made of blue cotton — which would match not only Mark Phillips’ blue jeans, but many other articles of clothing, he said.

“There’s nothing that indicates definitively that Mr. Phillips was run over and that Ms. Phillips did it,” Zachar said.

Assistant District Attorney Susan Donskey brought in forensic pathologist Dr. Ross Reichard and La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Fritz Leinfelder to testify at the hearing.

Reichard testified that Mark Phillips died from multiple blunt-force trauma injuries, including broken ribs that lacerated his lungs and bleeding in his brain, and that the injuries were consistent with being hit by a truck.

He testified that the manner of death was undetermined.

While cross-examining Reichard, Zachar suggested there were numerous other ways Mark Phillips could have been injured and noted that he had alcohol and Benadryl in his system.

Leinfelder testified that Mark Phillips was found facedown in a snowbank at the end of his driveway. While his torso was frozen to the ground, his legs were not; however, there were rips in his jeans, according to Leinfelder’s testimony. The Wisconsin Crime Lab found fibers found in the driveshaft of the truck were consistent with Mark Phillips’ jeans.

According to the criminal complaint, the Phillipses argued that night after going out for dinner and drinks, then the altercation became violent.

“They argued that evening, but they came home together and they were the only two who are there,” Donskey said.

Phillips told investigators her husband put her in a chokehold and Leinfelder testified that she had an injury to her chest. Phillips said that they returned home about 11 p.m. and Mark Phillips went inside, then came back out with his hand in a fist as if he were planning to punch her, according to the complaint.

He walked around the truck and Lori Phillips drove away, stopping after a couple blocks, then continuing on. She told police she attempted to get a hotel room before parking in the Woodman’s Market lot, according to the complaint. Investigators say she checked her home security cameras about 10 times using her phone, then returned home and went to sleep.

Phillips told police she found Mark Phillips outside the next morning and called 911.

Donskey argued that Phillips hit Mark Phillips with the truck, then recklessly left him to succumb to his injuries.

“Mr. Phillips is not a small man. … If someone ran over him or hit him, they would know,” Donskey said. “The testimony today was that his injuries were being consistent with being ran over or hit by a truck, and the only person with Mark, the person driving the truck was Lori Phillips.”

Levine ruled that there was enough evidence to find probable cause that a felony was committed and Phillips probably committed it.

“In this case, there is not a lack of evidence. There is enough evidence to reach that probable cause level,” Levine said, noting that some of the evidence was in dispute.

Phillips was released on a $50,000 signature bond.


Jourdan Vian can be reached at jvian@lacrossetribune.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.

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