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Jury finds Louisiana man guilty of manslaughter

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HARTINGTON – Jurors deliberated for more than two hours Friday evening and found a Louisiana man guilty of manslaughter. 

David Phillips Jr. 22, was accused of second-degree murder but the jury did not find his actions reached that level, instead finding him guilty of manslaughter in the death of Israel Matos-Colon, 31, at a Hartington worksite March 1, 2023. 

Instead of a potential sentence of life in prison, Phillips now faces a sentence range up to 20 years. 

The jury found Phillips not guilty of use of a firearm to commit a felony and not guilty of possession of a stolen firearm. 

Sentencing is set for July 22. 

In the final day of testimony Friday, Phillips took the stand and told his version of the events that left him in handcuffs and another man dead.

In a soft-spoken Louisiana drawl, Phillips said he held a Glock semiautomatic handgun loosely and shot around Matos-Colon - not at him. He stood up from the witness stand and gestured with his hand resembling a gun to demonstrate the manner in which he fired at least six rapid-succession shots.

Matos-Colon died from gunshot wounds in the torso and leg. 

The two men had gotten into two verbal arguments at the worksite before the shooting occurred. Prior witnesses said the two were arguing over climbing the tower together that day.  

Phillips also detailed conflicts with Matos-Colon while working at other sites out of state. 

Phillips said Matos-Colon bumped him which caused him to trip and fall. On another occasion Matos-Colon used foul language and tried to boss Philips around on the job, he said. 

“I felt like he was trying to overpower me in some type of way,” Phillips said. 

Those prior conflicts gave Phillips pause in accepting a job assignment working with Matos-Colon at the Hartington location. Accommodations were made to make Phillips more comfortable by bringing on additional crew members he had worked with previously.

At 20 years old, Phillips was the youngest person on the job and also held the smallest physical stature. 

Phillips felt frustrated and upset after the first verbal argument with Matos-Colon on March 1, 2023. He said it brought back memories from domestic violence inflicted on him from his father. 

After coworkers broke up that first verbal argument, Phillips said he walked away, shed a few tears, and told himself to keep his head high and not worry about Matos-Colon.

But within several minutes, the two were arguing verbally again, Phillips said, and Matos-Colon indicated he wanted to fight physically. Phillips said he asked Matos-Colon to leave him alone and tried to walk away but the man kept following him, taunting him and calling him names. 

Matos-Colon started talking “disrespectfully” about his mother. Again, Phillips asked him to stop. 

But the man kept coming for him, saying “Or what? Or what?” 

At one point, Matos-Colon raised a balled fist in a striking pose. And that’s when Phillips reached for the handgun in his waistband. 

“I’m actually just trying to shoot to get him away from me,” Phillips said. “I had no intention of hitting him.” 

Prosecutors with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office said it was not reasonable to be afraid of someone just because they are a few inches taller. 

“If he truly wanted to scare him, he would’ve shot at the air or shot at the ground, not point a handgun in the direction of Mr. Matos-Colon,” said Mariah Nickel. 

Phillips said when Matos-Colon started to run, he stopped firing.  

Prosecutors allege that the only reason Phillips stopped shooting the gun was because of a malfunction that caused a spent casing to not properly eject. 

Phillips described himself as shaking and scared when he dropped the gun on the ground, causing the handle and some of the gun’s chamber to get muddy. 

Phillips testified he ran over to where Matos-Colon laid on the ground, asking if he was OK? Had he been hit? 

According to Phillips’ testimony, Matos-Colon told him he was sorry. But other witnesses refuted this, saying Matos-Colon was struggling to breathe, and his eyes were rolling back into his head. He was unable to talk, they said.  

Phillips said he picked up the gun on his way to a nearby vehicle to look for a first aid kit, putting the weapon on the vehicle’s tailgate. 

Phillips denied he asked other crew members for a ride out of the state or asking if they’d turned him in. He did ask if someone had called the ambulance, Phillips said. 

He said when he heard the sirens it gave him peace of mind and that he lead first responders to Matos-Colon. 

Phillips maintained the shooting was self-defense, that during the argument Matos-Colon was threatening to physically harm him and Phillips was in a location where he couldn’t easily escape. 

Phillips was questioned about his purchase of the Glock 19 semiautomatic in Louisiana in December 2022. He bought it through a mutual friend for about $400 and specifically asked if the gun was “dirty.” Upon inspection, Phillips could see the gun’s serial numbers intact.

“You got to know stuff like that. You don’t want to be involved with anything. I wanted to make sure to buy a legal gun. I don’t want to be involved with anything like that,” he said. 

Phillips said he kept a gun at his home in Louisiana to protect his family and always kept one on him

“It just gives me peace of mind the way the world is now; it’s very crazy,” Phillips said. 

Phillips’ lawyer, Todd Lancaster of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, told jurors to focus on his intent. 

Does a man who intends to kill lead first responders to the victim? Does a man who intends to kill immediately give up his weapon when asked by law enforcement? 

Law enforcement arrived on scene in a matter of minutes. 

“David didn’t have time to think about, what am I going to say? What’s my story?’” Lancaster said. 

Instead, he puts his hands up, surrenders to law enforcement, and tells them, “We were fighting. It was self defense. He didn’t want Mr. Matos-Colon to die.” 

The jury was handed the case at 4:35 p.m. Friday and deliberated until 7 p.m.


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