Friday, June 04, 2021

Christian “Kit” Martin: Trial Begins For Pilot Charged In 2015 Triple Slaying In Western Kentucky

Two years after commercial airline pilot Christian “Kit” Martin was pulled off a jet at the Louisville airport and charged with a gruesome triple murder in Christian County, a jury Thursday heard conflicting accounts of the crime that went unsolved for years.

In an opening statement, special prosecutor Barbara Whaley said Martin had the motive to kill Calvin Phillips; his wife, Pamela; and neighbor Edward Dansereau; in tiny Pembroke, Kentucky, because Calvin was set to testify in a court-martial that could end Martin's Army career.

She also said prosecutors will show that a shell casing found five months after the crime was conclusively shown to have been fired from a .45-caliber handgun found in a safe in Martin’s home across the street.

Whaley, an assistant attorney general, also told the jury, which is hearing the case on a change of venue in Hardin County, that the family found Martin’s dog tags on a shelf in their historic home.

But Martin’s attorney, assistant public advocate Tom Griffiths, noted there were no eyewitnesses to the crime, no DNA and no fingerprints. And he said he will present forensic proof that the bullets that killed the victims did not come from his client’s gun.

Griffiths suggested the damning evidence — the shell casing and military ID which mysteriously were missed by police who scoured the home — must have been planted there, possibly by Martin’s angry ex-wife, who had vowed to ruin him.

The case attracted national attention when Martin, a former Army major who flew for American Airlines, was handcuffed at the airline gate as he was about to take off May 11, 2019. He was still wearing his pilot’s uniform when he was booked on three counts of complicity to murder, arson and other charges. 

The trial is being streamed live by Court TV.

The 2015 murders went unsolved for four years before Martin was finally charged — in part because of cell tower records that Christian County sheriff’s deputy told a grand jury disproved his alibi that he was home at the time of the crimes.

Whaley didn’t mention the cell phone evidence Thursday, which a defense expert has disputed.

She said Martin wanted to get rid of Phillips because he was supposed to testify in two weeks at a court-martial in which Martin was charged with mishandling classified information and abusing his wife’s son.

That trial was postponed and when it was finally held the next year — without Phillips, who was dead — Martin was convicted of less serious misdemeanors.

Whaley said prosecution witnesses will testify Martin fatally shot Calvin Phillips in his home on the morning of Nov. 18, 2015, then dumped the body in the cellar and tried, unsuccessfully, to burn it.

Whaley said he returned later that day, when Pamela Phillips returned home from her job at a Hopkinsville bank, and shot and killed her and Dansereau, who Whaley said was “just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

She said evidence will show that Martin set his alarm for 1:10 the next morning so he could get up, drive the bodies of Pamela Phillips and Dansereau in her car to a rural area 3½ miles away, and burned them in the vehicle.

A neighbor told police he heard an explosion at about 2 am and the next morning found the burned vehicle.

The bodies were so badly charred that police knew there were two of them because they found a pair of skulls. Both had been shot in the head.

Griffiths offered no explanation for why Martin had set his alarm for the middle of the night, other than to say "it was no big deal."

But he challenged the motive cited by the prosecution, noting Calvin Phillips also was subpoenaed to appear at the court-martial as a defense witness — which Whaley didn’t mention in her opening statement.

Griffiths said “anyone” could have planted the shell casing on the Phillips’ porch, and his ex-wife, Joan Harmon, had access to his guns as well as multiple copies of his dog tags he had accumulated over 30 years in the Army.

Suggesting Harmon may been involved, Griffiths said he will prove that cell tower records showed Pamela’s cell phone heading east — towards Todd County, where Harmon lives — the day after the prosecution says Pamela was killed.

“This case is unlike any I have ever seen,” he said. “This case is different because Chris didn’t do it.”

The trial, before Chief Circuit Judge John Atkins, is expected to last a month.