Death penalty possible for Jefferson County man, if convicted in pedestrian deaths

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JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (WATE) – The man police say killed random pedestrians by intentionally driving into them appeared in court Thursday for the first time since the tragedy.

William David Phillips is charged with three first degree murder charges and an attempted first degree murder charge. Two murder charges stem from the deaths of Sierra Cahoon and her two-year-old son, Nolan. The third charge was filed once investigators learned Cahoon was pregnant.

The attempted murder is for Tillman Gunter, who told police he was hit on East Main Street. Gunter was transported to the hospital for his injuries. Another victim, an employee inside the building police say Phillips drove into, was injured. Charges have not been filed for that victim at this point.

District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, who serves Tennessee’s fourth judicial district, is prepared to take on the case. He couldn’t go into specifics on the case, but he did shed some light, broadly, into first-degree murder charges.

Previous story: Warrants: Jefferson City driver heard ‘voices’ before hitting 3 people, killing pregnant woman, 2-year-old

Because an affidavit shows Phillips claims to hear voices, a legal expert told us a defense attorney could argue against first-degree murder and push for a lower-level charge, including manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, or voluntary manslaughter.

For a first-degree murder conviction, Dunn will have to prove premeditation and intention to a jury. If Phillips were to be convicted, his sentencing options would include the death penalty, life in prison without the possibility of parole or life in prison.

“My mind is not been made up yet, but we’ll look at all the issues. We look at all of the statutes and determine then what we are going to do,” Dunn said. “There’s good and bad things about whatever the penalties are. That’s something that weighs very heavily on any prosecutor’s mind, as to what is the proper way to handle a particular case. It takes a lot of thought, It takes a lot of research, and for me, it takes a lot of prayer.”

Phillips’ next court appearance is a bond hearing. It is set for next Tuesday.

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