Shooting victim’s ankle monitor helped catch alleged killer, Columbus detective says

‘I don’t believe there’s a case, period’: Murder case moves to Superior Court

Curtis Williams III appears in Recorder's Court for a preliminary hearing on a murder charge in the death of Steve “Stevie” Phillips Jr. Williams has already charged in a different Columbus, Ga., homicide.
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Curtis Williams III appears in Recorder's Court for a preliminary hearing on a murder charge in the death of Steve “Stevie” Phillips Jr. Williams has already charged in a different Columbus, Ga., homicide.

An ankle monitor, a blurted statement, and a serendipitous police encounter with a federal prison inmate.

Those were among the factors that led to Curtis WIlliams being charged with murder in the 2017 slaying of Steve “Stevie” Phillips Jr., found shot through the back of the head on a cut-through trail between Winston Road and Benning Drive.

Judge Julius Hunter decided Tuesday there was enough evidence to move the case from Recorder’s Court to Superior Court.

Phillips’ killing, the latest murder case against Williams, shows how Columbus homicides often are linked.

Already charged in the Aug. 10, 2018, fatal shooting of 44-year-old Stanford Jones, Williams on Wednesday was back in Columbus Recorder’s Court to face charges of killing Phillips, who was the key witness in the murder case against Kevin “Babe” Henderson, a gangster convicted in the Nov. 12, 2014, execution-style killing of Chad Herring.

Phillips had no identification on him when his body was found about 9 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2017, so investigators used a fingerprint scanner to identify him through a police database, as he had an arrest record, Detective Robert Nicholas testified.

Phillips was wearing an ankle monitor, so detectives could track his movements. Retracing Phillips’ last path alive revealed Williams was the last person known to have been with the victim, Nicholas said.

But for 14 months, authorities could not hunt down Williams, who was wanted on multiple warrants, the detective said. Police captured Williams in February.

Steve Phillips, 30, of Columbus, was pronounced dead at 9:35 a.m., Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan confirmed. Bryan said the body was found in a wooded area off Winston Road.

The police questioning

When Williams was detained in February, he was questioned at the Columbus Police Department and admitted having been with Phillips the day before the body was found, Nicholas said, testifying Williams told him the pair traveled to LaGrange and then back to Columbus, where they visited two women at the Motel 6 on Victory Drive. They were recorded on the motel’s surveillance video, he said.

But from there, Williams went off on a tangent: He said they left the motel to visit a woman on North Lumpkin Road, but she was not home, and then they went to Alpine Drive, and parted company after that, Nicholas said.

Phillips’ ankle monitor showed he never went to North Lumpkin Road or to Alpine Drive. He went from the motel straight to Winston Road, where he continued to move around in that neighborhood between 2:30 and 3:45 a.m., when the movement stopped, the detective said.

Confronted with this discrepancy, Williams made a “spontaneous utterance” that he had been on the run for 14 months because of “this little Stevie thing,” and knew one day he would have to face homicide investigators and go to prison, Nicholas testified.

Added to this evidence was an account from a federal prisoner Nicholas did not identify. He said police were talking to the inmate about an unrelated murder case, and had prepared a photo lineup that included Williams’ picture as “filler,” because he resembled the suspect investigators were after.

The prisoner saw Williams’ photo, and using Williams’ street name said, “That’s Baby C. He killed Stevie Phillips.”

The informant told police Williams admitted killing Phillips during a conversation at a “party house,” a private residence used as an unlicensed nightclub.

Case moved to Superior Court

Under defense attorney Mark Shelnutt’s questioning, Nicholas said Williams admitted having known Phillips a long time, and having known Phillips had a “hit on his head,” meaning a bounty for his death, because of his testimony in murder cases.

Shelnutt asked Judge Julius Hunter to dismiss Williams’ murder charge, arguing Nicholas had not presented sufficient evidence to establish probable cause to send the case on to Muscogee Superior Court.

Prosecutor Matt Brown countered that the ankle monitor data, blurted statement and corroboration from the federal prisoner were enough evidence to continue the case.

“Credibility obviously is going to be an issue,” Hunter said of the prisoner’s information, but that is a matter Shelnutt can address in Superior Court. Hunter found probable cause to have Williams held without bond for until he faces a Superior Court judge.

Williams already was being held in jail on unrelated allegations when police served warrants charging him with murder in the deaths of Jones and Phillips.