A church-going grandfather who riddled a fleeing SUV with bullets after an altercation between the driver and two of his family members last year was sentenced Monday to four years in prison.
According to evidence presented Monday morning before 43rd District Judge Trey Loftin Monday morning, one of the seven bullets that struck the vehicle passed within inches of the driver’s head.
Phillip Lee Roberts, a 54-year-old machinist, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and elected to have Loftin assess punishment.
“Frankly, sir, you tried to kill her,” Loftin told Roberts, adding that it was by some “angelic miracle” that he did not do so.
The victim, Jessica Parker, reportedly came to Roberts’ son and daughter-in-law’s house on Dubellette Street the night of April 16, 2011, and confronted Cassandra Roberts, Phillip Roberts’ daughter-in-law, about $20 owed to the woman, according to testimony.
Though Cassandra Roberts acknowledged that she had purchased marijuana from Parker in the past, she said during testimony Monday that the money was borrowed for groceries.
Parker entered the house and took Roberts’ cellphone after Roberts told Parker that she couldn’t pay her until Monday, Roberts said.
Roberts then chased Parker into the yard, attempting to get her cellphone back, when Parker punched her six times in the head, according to Roberts’ testimony.
Parker then got into her vehicle and Roberts began choking her, Roberts said.
Her husband, David Roberts, said he came out of the house after hearing the women fighting and separated the women but used a stun gun on Parker when Parker, lying on her back across the seat of her vehicle, began scratching at his wife’s face.
Cassandra Roberts said she was still reaching in the vehicle, attempting to get her phone, when the woman put the SUV in reverse.
Her pants were around her ankles at that point and she feared she would be run over, Roberts told the judge.
However, her husband pulled her away from the vehicle and they rolled into a ditch area as the vehicle backed into a tree and then left, according to Roberts.
As they were lying on the ground, Phillip Roberts began shooting at the vehicle as it sped down the road towards Palo Pinto Street, the couple testified.
Neighbors, who suspected a drive-by shooting, called police and the SUV, which had several shattered windows and a flat tire, was stopped by officers on Vine Street.
A total of seven of the ten shots fired struck the vehicle, according to testimony presented Monday.
Bullets went through the back and front windshields, the back panel of the vehicle, the tire and other areas of the SUV.
One projectile missed Parker’s head by inches, breaking both the driver’s side window and the front windshield, according to the trajectory mapped by investigators.
Another bullet ended up in a cup of change in the console, while another was found to have plowed through a basket of clothes in the back seat.
Despite the close call, Parker was not injured.
The couple testified they initially wanted to call police but David Roberts decided the family would take the couple’s children and go to a friend’s house instead.
The following morning they returned home and found that their house and vehicle had been “broken into” so they called police, Cassandra Roberts testified. They were told officers had executed a search warrant at the residence and the family should come in the following day to give a statement.
Phillip Roberts brought the gun to investigators and gave a statement at that time, according to testimony.
Assistant District Attorney Jeff Swain asked that the judge sentence Roberts to 10 to 20 years in prison, the upper range of punishment, while Roberts’ attorney, Harold Johnson, requested probation.
Stating they believed he was a good candidate for probation, family members told Loftin that Roberts was an involved father and grandfather, who regularly took his grandsons fishing and helped financially support the family at times.
He regularly attended New River Fellowship Church with the family before they moved to Graham, according to Cassandra Roberts.
His father, who served in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged, greatly influenced his own decision to serve in the Army, David Roberts said.
The shooting was out of character for the man and they believe he did so because he believed his son had been run over or hurt, family members said.
Phillip Roberts is a gentle, godly man, Cassandra Roberts said. “I think he’s an amazing man. I don’t think he deserves to go to jail.”
Though Roberts did not have a significant criminal history, he deserved prison time because of what he did that night, Swain argued. Unlike some cases where a defendant gets deferred adjudication after pointing a gun in the direction of someone, Roberts unloaded a gun at woman in a residential neighborhood, he said.
“He turned our victim’s SUV into Swiss cheese,” Swain said, adding that he endangered others in the area, as well.
Roberts will have to serve at least two years before becoming eligible for parole, according to Swain. Roberts had been free on $25,000 bond since his arrest June 15, 2011.