At 4:35 a.m. on December 11, 2009, 50-year-old Randall Philen called police to report that armed men had burst into his Brownwood, Texas, home, demanding drugs and money. He said the men tied him up and then fatally shot his 49-year-old brother, Ronald.
Randall Philen said he was asleep in bed when he was awakened by a loud crash. He went into the kitchen, where he encountered several masked men who forced him to the floor at gunpoint. He said he was clubbed with a shotgun and tied up and that he heard some of the men go into his brother’s bedroom where they beat and shot him, demanding marijuana and cash, and then fled.
Ronald’s body was found next to his bed. He had been shot five times in the chest. A 22-caliber bullet casing was found on the floor. Randall said that after the men fled, he freed himself and called police.
Randall was taken into custody because police found marijuana in the home and Randall admitted that he and his brother sold marijuana from their home. Later that day, police became suspicious of Randall’s account of the crime because they said that splinters from the door to Ronald’s bedroom were found on top of drops of blood, suggesting the door was broken after Ronald was shot.
Police also believed that Ronald had been dead for several hours by the time Randall called for help. They arrested him the afternoon of December 11 and charged him with murder and possession of marijuana.
Randall rejected an offer to plead guilty and went on trial before a jury in Brown County District Court in November 2011. Family members testified that the brothers had a volatile relationship and that they had urged Ronald to move out before something bad happened. Investigators on the case said the evidence—particularly the door splinters lying on top of blood—showed that the crime scene had been staged to look like a home invasion.
A paramedic who was summoned to the scene testified that Ronald appeared to have been dead for several hours when she arrived.
The jury convicted Randall of capital murder on November 22, 2011 and he elected to be sentenced by the judge instead of the jury. The judge sentenced Randall to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 30 years.
On January 9, 2012, a confidential informant went to police and said that Randall was innocent, naming four men who broke into the home to rob Ronald of drugs and money.
Police located one of the men, 21-year-old Alex “Lucky” Gil Jr., and asked him to come to the station. Hours later, police said that Gil had confessed to taking part in the crime. A fingerprint found at the crime scene matched Gill.
On January 10, Randall’s murder and marijuana convictions were vacated at the request of Brown County District Attorney Michael Murray. Randall was released from prison on January 11, 2012.
As the investigation progressed, police arrested three other men—Efrain Castillo, 21; Pedro Rocha, Jr., 21; and Matthew Navarro, 22. All four were charged with murder.
On April 23, 2012, the murder charge against Randall was dismissed. The marijuana charge remained pending a retrial.
– Maurice Possley