Matt Phillips, son of 2015 triple murder victims Calvin and Pamela Phillips, speaks at the courtroom after suspect Christian Martin pleaded not guilty
Billy Kobin, Courier Journal
HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. – The pilot arrested at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport earlier in May in connection with a 2015 triple murder case in Western Kentucky pleaded not guilty to murder charges Wednesday.
During an arraignment hearing, Christian “Kit” Richard Martin, 51, appeared at the Christian County Detention Center and will remain held without bond.
A Christian County grand jury indicted Martin earlier this month in the 2015 murders of Calvin and Pamela Phillips and Edward Dansereau.
Calvin Phillips, 59, was found shot to death Nov. 18, 2015, in his home in Pembroke.
The bodies of his 58-year-old wife, Pamela Phillips, and the couple’s 63-year-old neighbor, Dansereau, were found a few miles away in a corn field inside a burned car owned by Pamela Phillips.
Martin and the victims were neighbors on Main Street in Pembroke, a town of about 900 residents that is 10 miles southeast of Hopkinsville.
The murder case was cold until May 11, when Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear announced authorities had arrested Martin about 6:30 a.m. that day at a security checkpoint in the Louisville airport.
Martin has been a pilot for PSA Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines, since January 2018 and was arrested about an hour before Flight 5523 was set to depart for Charlotte with him at the controls.
Martin has been placed on administrative suspension by the airline pending the outcome of the criminal investigation, a spokeswoman said.
A criminal background check that all pilots undergo turned up no criminal history on Martin “that would disqualify him from being a commercial pilot,” the spokeswoman said.
Beshear has declined to explain what helped investigators crack the case, saying he couldn’t comment on evidence.
Beshear said the indictment came nearly two years after he said he met with Calvin and Pamela Phillips’ son, who was worried the case had stalled.
After that meeting, Beshear accepted a request from the local commonwealth’s attorney to appoint a special prosecutor from his office to handle the case.
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Apart from being neighbors, Martin and Calvin Phillips were linked through a complicated court-martial case at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.
Martin, a former Army major, was accused in 2015 of sexual assault charges involving several juvenile witnesses.
Calvin Phillips was scheduled to testify in December 2015 in the case but would be killed before he could do so.
Martin was briefly taken into custody, but no charges were filed against him in relation to the triple homicide.
In May 2016, the Leaf-Chronicle in Clarksville, Tennessee, reported that Martin had been acquitted of the sexual assault charges, which arose after several juvenile witnesses accused him of physical and sexual abuse dating back to 2008.
But Martin, who had served in the Army for almost 30 years, was found guilty by the court-martial on lesser charges of two counts of mishandling classified information and two counts of simple assault.
He was dismissed from the Army and sentenced to 90 days in prison.
According to Beshear’s office, Martin moved out of Christian County after the alleged murders and was living in North Carolina at the time of the indictment.
Martin has an address in Raleigh, North Carolina, according to online records.
He told a Nashville television station in a 2016 interview that Calvin Phillips was his “star witness.”
But Calvin Phillips’ son, Matt Phillips, told CNN his father had evidence that was harmful to Martin’s case in military court.
Thompson, Martin’s attorney, told the New York Times earlier this month that Calvin Phillips’ testimony would have helped Martin and that Phillips was expected to be a witness for both the defense and the prosecution.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom after Wednesday’s arraignment, Matt Phillips said he was thankful the case is advancing “in the right direction.”
This was the first time Phillips, 35, said he saw Martin since 2015.
“(Martin) would’ve been on his front porch watching us remove items from my parents’ house after the murders,” Matt Phillips said regarding their last encounter.
Matt Phillips said he believes in the justice system and his family hopes the case progresses in a timely matter.
“My grandparents are 83 years old and they deserve to see this move forward,” he said.
The unsolved murders shocked the small town of Pembroke, Mark A. Hicks told the Courier Journal while standing outside the courtroom before Martin’s hearing Wednesday.
Hicks said he was neighbors with Dansereau for 12 years.
“Nobody’s ever seen anything happening like this,” Hicks, 62, said. “So it scared everybody.”
But Hicks said neighbors and “the ones who had any sense” have suspected Martin was responsible for the killings all along.
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Hicks cited an interview that Martin gave to a Nashville TV station in 2016 in which he said his ex-wife had an affair with Calvin Phillips.
Now, Hicks said neighbors are hopeful the murder case can reach a conclusion and provide some closure to the community.
He remembers Dansereau as an “excellent cook” who would “lay a bowl of bread over my fence each weekend.”
Dansereau was also a gifted pianist, Hicks added.
“He was a wonderful person,” Hicks said.
Martin’s daughter and fiancée have told some TV stations that they believe Martin is innocent.
The Special Prosecutions Unit in Beshear’s office is prosecuting the case.
Martin was indicted on three counts of murder, one count of attempted arson, two counts of burglary in the first degree and three counts of tampering with physical evidence.
A pretrial conference is scheduled for July 10.
Follow Billy Kobin on Twitter: @Billy_Kobin
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