Inmate Offered “Hit Man” $30,000 To Kill Local Judge

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A jail inmate offered an undercover officer he thought was a hit man $30,000 to kill an unnamed state district judge, authorities said Thursday.

William Phillips (Jail photo)

WACO (February 20, 2014) Jack Harwell Detention Center inmate William Ray Phillips, 63, has been charged with attempted capital murder in an alleged murder-for-hire plot that targeted a local state district judge, McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said during a news conference Thursday.

The inmate initially talked about wanting to kill three high-ranking officials, McNamara said, but finally decided that he wanted to target only the state judge.

The officials were advised and measures were taken to protect them during the course of the investigation.

McNamara declined to name them, but 54th State District Court Judge Matt Johnson later confirmed he was the target and said he took additional precautions as well.

Johnson twice sentenced Phillips to prison.

Phillips is accused of offering an undercover officer $30,000 to murder the judge, according to a criminal complaint released Thursday.

The warrant was issued after a 10-month investigation by the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“This is yet another example of what can be accomplished when all law enforcement works together for a common goal,” McNamara said.

The probe started after another inmate told an investigator that Phillips asked him if he “Knew someone able to carry out a murder on a high level official involved with his case,” the complaint said.

“The inmate said Phillips told him that he wanted to assassinate someone involved with his case,” the complaint said.

Investigators developed a plan to allow Phillips to make contact with a hit man, who actually was the undercover officer, the complaint said.

Bond on the charge was set at $250,000.

Phillips is also held on a federal detainer charging failure to register as a sex offender, without bond on a state charge for failure to register as a sex offender and without bond charged with attempted capital murder.

The federal charge stems from a conviction in Feb. 19, 2003 in U.S. District Court for possession of depictions of sexual activity of minors.

U.S. District Judge Walter Smith sentenced Phillips to serve 46 months in federal prison, three years on supervised release, and ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine and a $100 special assessment to the court.

Phillips was convicted in January 2007 in Waco’s 54th State District Court on 12 counts of sexual misconduct with children, including aggravated sexual assault of a child, indecency with a child and aggravated rape, records in the McLennan County District Clerk's office show.

The jury in that trial assessed his punishment at life for each of the 12 convictions, but a ruling in 2012 by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dealing with statutes of limitations in certain criminal cases resulted in reversal of those convictions and ultimately in Phillips' release from custody on Jan. 17, 2012.

He was arrested April 18, 2012 by agents from the Texas Attorney General's Office after they discovered he had never registered as a sex offender.

On July 11, 2012, court records show Phillips was indicted for failing to register as a sex offender relating to his earlier federal conviction and he was arrested and booked into the McLennan County Jail on August 21, 2012.

On Jan. 9, 2013, a 54th District Court jury took only 13 minutes to find Phillips guilty of failing to register as a sex offender.

State District Judge Matt Johnson, who decided punishment, sentenced Phillips to 10 years in prison.

(Jim Peeler and Paul Gately contributed to this report)

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