BUFFALO, N.Y. – After a dramatic flight from the law that authorities said included stolen cars, firearms and the shooting of three state troopers – one fatally – Ralph “Bucky” Phillips found himself back behind bars.
It had been five months since he escaped through the kitchen ceiling of an Erie County jail, sparking one of the largest manhunts in state history.
“Now this miserable creature will suffer for the rest of his life in the New York state prison system,” State Police Superintendent Wayne Bennett said Saturday.
Flanked by armed guards, shackled at the ankles and wearing handcuffs, an exhausted and unshaven Phillips was charged Saturday with eight counts including attempted aggravated murder, first-degree attempted murder and second-degree attempted murder in connection with the shooting of a state trooper in June.
Phillips, 44, did not enter a plea.
Answering in short sentences, Phillips, who is also suspected of shooting two other state troopers – one fatally – while on the run, told Judge Peter Buckley he didn’t know his Social Security number and did not have a job or a permanent address.
Phillips either looked at the floor or closed his eyes during the 12-minute court appearance. He was assigned an attorney, public advocate Richard Rich, who could not be reached for comment.
“He will get his day in court, and he will be held accountable,” said District Attorney John Trice.
On the most serious count, attempted aggravated murder, Phillips faces a minimum of 20 years to life in prison and a maximum of 40 years to life, Trice said.
He will be kept in a special section of the county jail and will stay in Chemung County unless other charges are brought elsewhere. Phillips is due back in court Oct. 23.
Prosecutors also expect to charge him in the shootings of two troopers in Chautauqua County on Aug. 31. Phillips, a career thief who has spent 20 of the past 23 years in state prison, could face other charges including burglary and larceny for allegedly stealing more than dozen vehicles and breaking into numerous cabins and a gun store and relying on friends while on the run.
Terrance Flynn, the U.S. attorney for the western district, did not know when Phillips would be transferred to Chautauqua County near the Pennsylvania line.
Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard said Phillips spent an uneventful night in an isolation cell at the Erie County Holding Center and was evaluated by medical personnel overnight and was under “constant supervision.”
“He seemed to be very quiet and reserved,” Howard said.
Howard said he had no plans to talk with Phillips.
“I feel nothing but contempt and disgust for the man.”
In Saratoga Springs, hundreds of law enforcement officials and friends mourned Trooper Joseph Longobardo at a public wake Saturday. “It’s been hard on the family because they never got a chance to say goodbye,” said Doug McCrindle, a family friend.
Another trooper, Donald Baker Jr., remains in critical condition at a Pennsylvania hospital. A third trooper, Sean Brown, has returned to duty after being shot in June near Elmira.
Friends at the wake said they were happy Phillips was captured without anyone else being harmed. But “it’s not going to change what happened, the outcome is still the same,” said April Vogel.
The noose tightened on Phillips early Friday, when police said he crashed a stolen car and bolted into the woods after an officer tried to pull him over. When a police canine team caught up with him in the woods, Phillips wheeled around with a pistol in his hand but did not fire before he disappeared into the woods, police said.
Just before nightfall, SWAT teams and police dogs closed in on the field where he was thought to be hiding. Phillips emerged from the woods with his hands in the air.
“The game was up, and he knew it,” said Bennett.
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