09/11/2006

Former fugitive accused of killing N.Y. trooper appears in court

By CAROLYN THOMPSON
Associated Press Writer

BUFFALO, New York- A former fugitive suspected of fatally shooting a state trooper and wounding two others made his first court appearance Saturday, hours after surrendering in a field over the Pennsylvania state line following a five-month manhunt.

Ralph "Bucky" Phillips, who once threatened to "splatter pig meat all over Chautauqua County" in upstate New York, in a reference to police, appeared in U.S. District Court where a judge agreed to turn him over to state police to face a charge of attempted murder of a state trooper in Chemung County.

During the four-minute hearing, the exhausted and unshaven suspect answered "yes" when asked if he was Ralph Phillips and if he had received a copy of the federal complaint charging him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

He stood with his hands folded in front of him as the judge spoke. After the appearance, U.S. Marshals placed a chain around his waist, handcuffed him and led him out of court.

Phillips, a 44-year-old career thief who has spent 20 of the past 23 years in state prison, surrendered Friday night without firing a shot. The arrest capped the state's largest manhunt after a frantic day that included troopers firing at Phillips as he hid in woods.

Federal prosecutor Terrance Flynn said he did not know when Phillips would be transferred to Chemung County, near the Pennsylvania line, where trooper Sean Brown was wounded on June 10.

State officials also expect to charge Phillips in the shootings, one fatal, of two troopers in Chautauqua County on Aug. 31. Authorities said he ambushed the two troopers as they staked out the home of Phillips' former girlfriend.

Police have said he could also be charged with burglary and larceny for allegedly stealing more than a dozen vehicles and breaking into numerous cabins and a gun store while on the run.

Phillips, who had also threatened to commit "suicide by cop," had been placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list Thursday. The threat to "splatter pig meat" was in a note he left behind when he left the Chautauqua County Jail several years ago.

On Saturday, hundreds of law enforcement officials and friends mourned trooper Joseph Longobardo, who died after the Aug. 31 ambush, at a wake. The other trooper, Donald Baker Jr., remains in critical condition at a Pennsylvania hospital.

"It's been hard on the family because they never got a chance to say goodbye," said Doug McCrindle, a family friend. "At least we know he's been captured, but that's not going to bring (Longobardo) back."

After his capture, Phillips was kept overnight in an isolation cell. "He seemed to be very quiet and reserved," said Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard. He wouldn't say if Phillips made any statements to police.

Howard said he had no plans to talk with Phillips. "I feel nothing but contempt and disgust for the man," he said.

Phillips broke out of an Erie County jail in April, using a can opener to cut his way through a ceiling.

Since his escape, he had twisted his way throughout southwestern New York and northwestern Pennsylvania, stealing cars, burglarizing homes and camps and relying on acquaintances for help, police said.

On Friday, shortly before 2 a.m. (0600 GMT), a police officer in Pennsylvania tried to pull over a car police said Phillips had stolen. After a short chase, the car crashed and Phillips bolted into the woods.

A half-hour later, Phillips stole a second car and drove back into New York, where troopers began a second chase, authorities said.

Phillips jumped out of the moving car and ducked into another wooded area, zigzagging back and forth between New York and Pennsylvania, authorities said. Dogs tracked his scent for several hours until he was spotted by two troopers, Bennett said.

As troopers approached, Phillips wheeled around with a pistol in his hand but did not fire, police said. One of the troopers fired an undisclosed number of shots as Phillips disappeared into thick woods.

Just before nightfall, 25 police officers and 12 dogs swept through a field where he was thought to be hiding. He gave himself up around 8 p.m. (0000 GMT), police said.

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On the Net:

http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/topten/fugitives/fugitives.htm/

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Associated Press Writer Candace Choi in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. contributed to this report.

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