EagleHerald Staff Writer
MENOMINEE—To give Ryan Joseph Philipps of Menominee Township a fair trial in an attempted murder case, the Michigan court system appointed 47th Circuit Court Judge John Economopoulos of Escanaba to hear the case, which started Tuesday at the Menominee County Courthouse with preliminary jury selection.
Menominee County prosecuting attorney Jeffrey Rogg said he recused himself from the case, as did the two judges who typically hear circuit court cases in Menominee. “I disqualified myself. The two judges here in our circuit disqualified themselves because they employ Menominee attorney Randall Philipps as part of the public defenders contract,” Rogg said Wednesday. “I disqualified myself because I work with Mr. Philipps literally every day of the week. It wouldn’t pass the smell test.”
Assistant State Attorney Robert Hayes is the prosecuting attorney, and attorney Trenton Stupak is defending Ryan Philipps, the son of Randall Philipps.
According to a court document provided by Rogg, Philipps is charged with four felony counts, including assault with intent to murder, punishable with a maximum life sentence, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder or by strangulation, punishable with a maximum of 10 years in prison or $5,000, assault with a dangerous weapon, punishable with a maximum sentence of four years in prison and a fine of $2,000, and reckless driving causing serious impairment of a body function, punishable with a maximum sentence of four years and $2,000.
A story posted online Sept. 1 referenced accusations based on opening statements in the case and earlier news reports.
In opening statements, jurors were told they’ll be deciding whether Philipps actually intended to kill his long-time friend. They also heard from the first two witnesses, including Barley and an accident reconstruction witness, Stupak said. Several more witnesses were expected to testify Thursday as the case continues. Philipps is expected to testify, along with Alexandra King, his girlfriend at the time, who was riding in the vehicle and witnessed the incident, Stupak said.
Hayes told the jury Sept. 1 they would be presented with evidence explaining how the incident occurred, including text messages between the two young men, law enforcement body cameras, and testimony from Barley himself on his injuries “and all the things he had to go through,” to recover.
A car can be a dangerous weapon, Hayes said. Philipps drove the vehicle, described in the accident report as a red Honda Pilot SUV, “in a willful manner,” he said. “There can be no question that running over a person is a willful and wanton act of disregard for a person,” he said.
“Ryan was there….He committed a battery. He ran him over with a vehicle and intended to do so,” Hayes said. However, Philipps has not been charged with a count of battery.
Stupak will encourage jurors to “find the truth” and, after hearing both sides, to consider that “an action in the heat of the moment, even when there are serious injuries, is not a crime.”
Jury selection began Aug. 31 at the Menominee County Courthouse in the case, which is expected to stretch over several days. A jury of eight men and six women were seated Wednesday morning.
According to media reports from the August 2019 incident, witnesses at the time told Menominee County sheriff’s deputies Philipps drove onto the front lawn at the County Road 577 home where Barley resided about 4:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. The sports-utility vehicle Philipps was driving appeared to intentionally strike and run over Barley after the two had argued over $140, according to the 2019 media reports. Both men were age 23 at the time.
But Stupak said the early accounts don’t consider the events leading up to the incident. The two men intended to go into business together growing marijuana, Stupak said. “Ryan was going to grow marijuana plants and Devon Barley was going to put money toward the operation, and they were going to make money together,” he told jurors.
“Ryan Philipps wasn’t a very good grower of marijuana,” Stupak said, and Barley felt slighted because he didn’t see a return on the money he gave Philipps.
Contrary to the assumption Philipps acted in anger, Stupak painted a portrait for the jury of an angry Barley who wanted his money back. He suggested Philipps acted out of panic, while Barley’s “frustration, upset, anger reached a boiling point” on Aug. 2, 2019. That afternoon, Barley had been drinking alcohol with friends for several hours, Stupak said. “Devon Barley’s going to tell you he had beer in his car,” Stupak said, when he started texting and calling Philipps, demanding repayment. He sent a total of 10 text messages and four telephone calls, Stupak said.
Philipps didn’t respond to the angry texts for a period of time, but he agreed to bring the money to Barley at Barley’s house at 4 p.m. that day. He and his girlfriend arrived about 3:50 p.m. but Barley wasn’t there yet, Stupak said.
“If someone is going to injure, kill him, why would you go to his house where there could be family members and surveillance?” Stupak asked the jurors to consider. “It doesn’t make any sense that they would go there if they intended to kill.”
When Barley arrived, “he got out of his car, not Ryan Philipps,” Stupak said. “Witnesses will testify Barley appeared angry, maniacal. He banged his chest like Tarzan,” he said. “He puts his hands on Ryan Philipps’ neck,” then snatched the cash out of Philipps’ hands. Seeing Philipps’ girlfriend seated next to him, Stupak said Barley said to Philipps, “‘Oh, you brought your girlfriend, too. Now she’s going to get it.’”
That’s when Philipps made a split-second decision to get out of there, Stupak said. He drove to the left, but Barley was at the front of the car, he said. “He slams his body onto the hood of the car. Now he’s on the hood of the car.”
As Philipps’ drove away from the scene, Devon Barley “fell off of the hood and was run over by the car. It was a terrible ending to a confrontation started by Ryan Barley.”
According to 2019 media reports, after the vehicle struck Barley, Philipps fled the scene on foot and was hiding for two days. Immediately after the incident, Barley was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Green Bay and admitted to intensive care. His injuries included a broken femur, bruised lung, broken ribs, ankle and shoulder injuries, and multiple traumatic wounds. He required several surgeries.
Deputies searched for Philipps and the SUV using a drone. Philipps surrendered at 6:52 p.m. Aug. 4, 2019 and was arrested and charged with assault with intent to murder and attempted murder, according to media reports.
Stupak told jurors they would be presented with accident reconstructions and after-the-fact testimony from people who didn’t witness the incident and weren’t aware of the facts leading up to it. “What they did not see is just as important as what they did see,” he said. “But when you don’t know how it started, you can’t know what caused it.”