Fugitive witness sought in federal trial for alleged gang member, possibly connected to unsolved GR homicide

Posted at 10:37 PM, Apr 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-11 11:51:32-04
UPDATE: As of Friday evening, Federal authorities have ended the search for Jesse Matell Phillips, a witness who refused to testify in a federal trial after the trial reached its conclusion late Friday.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Authorities say a federal judge authorized an arrest warrant for 31-year-old Jesse Martell Phillips this week after he refused to testify despite being served a subpoena.

He's a material witness the U.S. Marshal Fugitive Task Force in West Michigan is eager to catch, who's needed to take the stand in an ongoing federal trial against Carl Luther "Buddy" Thompson II, who court documents allege is a well-known member of the Grand Rapids Mad Ave gang.

Thompson is facing charges for guns and drugs, but one of the firearms charges is related to an alleged assault that took place in the summer of 2013 that could be connected to an unsolved Grand Rapids homicide that happened that same summer.

Guns found in Dickinson (or Buffer) Park in June 2013 (picture from federal court briefing document)

According to the 25-page trial briefing for Thompson's case, he faces one felony firearms charge for an incident stemming back to June 11, 2013. Police said they found a .357 revolver in Dickinson Park that was left on a picnic table after Thompson and a few other individuals with him at the time were stopped by officers while gambling.

Thompson was searched and released, with police later finding the .357 revolver on a table, along with another .22 caliber pistol, which were confiscated.

Court documents said DNA tests later determined the .357 belonged to Thompson. It was the same revolver a witness close to Thompson told police he'd left with earlier in the day only to return later that night saying he'd lost the gun, according to documents.

Thompson's second felony firearm charge stems from an alleged incident that happened the following day, June 12. According to documents, GRPD officers responded to a 911 call in the 300 block of Brown Street after the caller reported a man named "Buddy" was pointing a gun at her.  Documents indicate the gun was identified as a C9 semiautomatic pistol by a witness close to Thompson, which was recovered at the scene of a shooting investigation on June 13, the following day.

That female witness from the June 12 incident told police she asked Thompson and the crowd of people outside her home to leave when Thompson allegedly pointed the gun at her. The state had attempted to prosecute Thompson following the altercation but the female witness refused to testify, according to court documents.

"She was scared of retribution," according to documents. "(She was) pressured not to testify against Thompson."

Shanetta Franklin, shot and killed in July 2013. Police still searching for her killer.

Just a few weeks later, on July 14, 2013 court documents say the female witness in the June altercation was shot in the same neighborhood along with her friend Shanetta Franklin, who was killed almost instantly.

A third person was also shot, but survived. It's unclear who the shooters were.

The female witness told police she received a phone call following the shooting from a blocked number. According to the trial brief, the caller told her "You know that was meant for you, right?"

“They stopped for a moment to talk to a man they knew there standing on the sidewalk, and two individuals from the shadows nearby stepped out with firearms and started firing into the group,” Lt. Pat Merrill with the Grand Rapids Police Department told FOX 17 in November.

Franklin's unsolved homicide was featured on FOX 17 in November 2014. Merrill told FOX 17 he's convinced there are people who know who's responsible for her death.

Katherine Jones, Franklin's sister, said the family is desperate to find closure and wants anyone with possible information on her killer to come forward.

“Us as a family aren’t complete anymore and it’s because of you,” Jones said in November. “So if you have it anywhere in your heart please step forward and let us know something.”

Jesse Martell Phillips, 31, fugitive witness sought to testify in federal case.

In October 2014, more than a year after the deadly shooting on Brown Street, a GRPD officer stopped a car driving on the city's south east side with "Buddy" Thompson and Phillips inside. The officer searched both Thompson and Phillps and later found drugs--heroin, marijuana and cocaine--on the ground outside of the vehicle, according to documents.

Thompson was arrested and is now facing charges for possession of heroin, cocaine base and marijuana with intent to distribute.  Phillips was not arrested during the traffic stop.

It's unclear if Thompson is in any way involved or connected with the murder of Shanetta Franklin, but federal authorities say Phillips is a material witness in the federal case against Thompson involving drugs and gun charges.

Federal authorities say they've spoken to Phillips over the phone, who's made it clear he has no plans on coming in to testify on his own.

Phillips is 5'7'', 170 pounds with brown eyes and black hair.

Investigators say his last known address is in the 800 block of Perkins NE in Grand Rapids.

If you or someone you know has any information that could lead to an arrest of Phillips, you're being asked to call the U.S. Marshals at 1-877-926-8332.