SNOW HILL – A Worcester County jury deliberated for a little more than an hour on Wednesday afternoon before returning guilty verdicts on first-degree murder and other charges against a Pittsville man charged in the stabbing death of a Pocomoke man.
Charles Robert Phillips, 30, of Pittsville, appeared stoic in court as the 12-member jury returned guilty verdicts on nearly every charge against him including first-degree murder, armed robbery with a deadly weapon, robbery and theft in the stabbing death of William Nibblett, 77, in his home last March. The two-day trial began on Tuesday and was recessed late in the day to be reconvened early Wednesday.
At the close of the state’s case, defense attorneys made a motion for acquittal on all charges, but Judge Thomas Groton denied the motion and the jury was given the case shortly before 3 p.m. on Wednesday. After deliberating for a little over an hour, the jury announced it had reached a verdict and both the victim’s and the defendant’s families filed back into the courtroom. The victim’s family was largely emotionless as the jury returned guilty verdicts nearly across the board, while Phillips’ family members sobbed.
Following the announcement of the verdict, Groton deferred sentencing pending the completion of a pre-sentence investigation, which is protocol in murder cases, but it appears Phillips could be facing the life in prison without the possibility of parole. In December, state prosecutors filed notice they would seek life without the possibility of parole for Phillips, but the maximum sentence was taken off the table briefly when a plea bargain was tentatively reached.
The tentative plea bargain called for a guilty plea to first-degree murder if the notice to seek life in prison without parole was rescinded. However, plea bargain talks ended when Phillips asked for a postponement of his trial in order to seek legal counsel.
On March 6, 2008, Nibblett’s daughters went to his Pocomoke residence to check on him after a man for whom their father was supposed to do a plumbing job for reported he uncharacteristically failed to show up for work. Nibblett’s daughters repeatedly tried to call him, only to get busy signals, before going to the home to check on his welfare. When they went into the home through an open back door, they found their father’s body on the living room floor with a knife in his chest.
Evidence at the residence and witness testimony eventually connected Phillips to the crime. Phillips was located in Salisbury the next day after investigators were able to connect him to a car seen in front of the victim’s home at the time of the murder. He was later arrested and essentially admitted killing Nibblett over $300 he was alleged owed for replacing windows at the victim’s home. During the trial this week, Phillips’ friend, who owned the car connected to the murder, testified he drove Phillips to Nibblett’s home to collect the debt.
Ironically, Nibblett’s murder over an alleged payment for home improvement services came roughly one month before a similar case unfolded in West Ocean City. In April 2008, Roberto Murillo stabbed to death a popular West Ocean City woman in her home over a dispute about payment for a landscaping job he had done for her. Murillo was ultimately convicted on a first-degree murder charge and was sentenced to life in prison in January.