HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – A man pleaded guilty Monday to charges connected to the death of his girlfriend in 2015 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Leon Edward Collier, 48, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and two counts of child neglect. He was sentenced to 30 years for the manslaughter charge and 10 years each for the neglect charges. The sentences will run concurrently.
“The defendant had found out that the victim had been texting another man. They had some disagreement. She was possibly about to kick him out,” said Joshua Holford, the senior assistant solicitor who prosecuted the case.
Collier’s attorney told the judge Collier said he strangled Phipps during sex.
“It was a heinous act. There is no question that he was the one that killed Ms. Phipps and then afterwards he gave her truck away, he withdrew money from her bank account,” Holford explained.
Holford said Collier used charcoal, kitty litter and air fresheners to mask the smell of Phipp’s body.
Horry County Deputy Coroner Darris Fowler said Phipps died several days before she was found by police. Authorities estimated that she died around Nov. 23 but wasn’t found until Dec. 1.
"Being downstairs, outside of an apartment complex and smelling a body that's in the third-floor apartment inside a closet, it's just something that will never leave me,” Holford said.
Holford said friends of Collier called police concerned that Collier was going to harm himself.
One caller is heard saying, "I'm not there I'm in Florida, a friend of mine, a childhood friend of mine, called, I believe he's going to hurt himself, and I believe he may have already hurt someone," he said.
"You believe he already hurt someone, what do you mean, he may have hurt someone?" the dispatcher asked.
"I think he may have killed someone," he said.
At the time of the crime, Phipps had a 6-year-old and 10-year-old child who continued to live in the home in the time that passed between her death and when the police arrived.
Arrest warrants stated that Collier placed a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old child in “unreasonable risk of harm” due to “unsanitary home conditions and lack of food in the residence.”
"They wreaked, for the lack of a better term, of a dead body,” Holford told the court.
On Monday, Collier pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful abuse of a child and sentenced to ten years for each.
Holford explained part of the reason why the state allowed Collier to plead guilty to a lesser charge was because of the children.
“The reason to let Leon Collier pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter is that it avoids a trial where we have to bring in two minor children to testify, all other witnesses, fly people in from New York from Florida, have everyone come in to testify where the possibility he gets 30 years is accomplished,” Holford explained.
Thirty years is the maximum sentence under voluntary manslaughter. If Collier’s case had gone to trial and a jury found him guilty, he would face a sentence to 30 years to life in prison.
Collier’s defense asked for the judge for a 10-year sentence, but the judge decided to go with the maximum sentence.
The plea also saves money and time for the courts, Holford said.
“Really the question is, are we doing justice?” Holford said. “Was justice serve by him pleading guilty to a lesser included voluntary manslaughter? And I would say yes.”
Holford said children lost their father before Phipps and are currently living with relatives.