Cabaret West shooter testifies against homicide suspect

December 9, 2013
Sheriff’s deputies lead Phillip Whitlock, who is testifying in the double-homicide trial of Gregory Randall Avery, into Washington County Courthouse Monday. Whitlock plead guilty last year in connection with the 2009 killings. - Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Shackled and wearing orange prison clothes while testifying Monday morning, Phillip Whitlock, who admitted his role in the 2009 double homicide at Cabaret West bar in Washington, named Gregory Randall Avery as the other gunman in the fatal shootings.

Whitlock testified that he and Avery had a “common enemy” in Marquis Taylor, one of the men shot to death outside the bar Feb. 16, 2009, but that Avery acted alone in killing Troy Saunders Jr.

Taylor, 24, was shot eight times with two different guns in the parking lot while Saunders, 23, was shot once in the back with a .22-caliber handgun while running away on Fayette Street.

Avery, 25, of Washington, faces two counts of criminal homicide and one charge of conspiracy. Whitlock, 31, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, aggravated assault and conspiracy, and is awaiting his sentencing while cooperating with prosecutors in the Avery case.

Whitlock told the jury that he called Avery and told him Taylor was inside the bar around midnight. Gunfire erupted shortly after 2 a.m. while patrons were leaving. Taylor was shot near a friend’s car in the parking lot as Saunders ran from the area.

“Everything went to hell, and he ran,” Whitlock said.

He testified that he was angry with Taylor over an alleged robbery and assault nearly two months before.

“I just snapped,” Whitlock said. “I intended to shoot him.”

Whitlock said he saw a man in a black hooded sweatshirt chasing Saunders down an alley and later heard two more gunshots.

Whitlock began cooperating with investigators in April 2012 after his motion to dismiss the homicide charge for Saunders’ death was denied and he was preparing for trial. He said it was out of “principle” that he named Avery as the other shooter because he did not want to be wrongly convicted for killing Saunders.

“Well, I’m glad you have principles,” defense attorney Mike DeRiso said. “That’s good to know.”

Instead, DeRiso suggested during a testy cross-examination that lasted nearly two hours that Whitlock started talking only after he learned prosecutors might seek the death penalty against him.

“The issue in your mind was that you would get a needle in your arm or spend the rest of your life in prison,” DeRiso said.

Whitlock said he held no animosity against Saunders, despite issues several years before.

“I’m not the type of person who takes something out on someone who didn’t do anything to me,” Whitlock said. “I didn’t have problems with Troy. I had problems with Marquis.”

However, in telephone conversations recorded at the Washington County jail, where Whitlock was being held, he said “they were (messing) with me” before the killings. DeRiso sat down, folded his arms and leaned his head back while Whitlock explained his use of “street lingo” to describe Taylor as “they.”

Later in the day, Whitlock’s uncle, Hugh Whitlock, testified that Avery shot him in the shoulder with a .22-caliber handgun in September 2008. Investigators later matched the shell casing found at the scene of the elder Whitlock’s wounding to shells from the scene of the fatal shootings at the Cabaret West nearly six months later. Hugh Whitlock said Avery dropped the gun while they were fistfighting, and Avery’s girlfriend threw the weapon into the street.

Hugh Whitlock refused to cooperate with police at the scene and told them he would handle the situation. He didn’t tell investigators that Avery shot him until June 2013, just before the double homicide trial originally was supposed to begin.

The trial is expected to continue through the middle of the week.

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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