Prosecutors Given Time to Clarify Case Against Phillip Crooms

At a preliminary hearing today Judge Lynn Leibovitz sent government prosecutors back to the drawing board, instructing them to find clarification on the cause of death of 29-year-old Delonte Butler.

Butler’s body was found by District officers on Sept. 25, 2010 next to a car that was on fire.

Joseph Spinks was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder in connection with the case that same month. His case remains open and is pending indictment.

Phillip Crooms was arrested in May and was before Judge Leibovitz Friday when she instructed prosecutors to clarify Butler’s cause of death.

According to charging documents, prosecutors believe that Butler was shot inside of a vehicle by a man with a shotgun. Immediately following the shooting, the car collided with a tree. Crooms, suspected of felony murder, is not suspected of taking part in the shooting, but instead of handing Spinks a bottle of rubbing alcohol in order to light the car on fire and destroy evidence of the shooting, charging documents allege.

The medical examiner’s report, as relayed in the charging documents which were adopted in court as testimony, say that Butler died of a gunshot wound to the head but that

the inhalation of products of combustion contributed to the cause of death as well… [and] that the decedent was alive and breathing at the time he was set on fire.

Following the presentation of evidence in the case, Leibovitz said she was struggling with what the “substantial factor” of death was, the gunshot wound or the fire.

I’m not sure that I have enough quantifiable information,” she said. “It’s one little piece, but if the government decides it can never prove a substantial factor in this case then that’s the way it is.”

Leibovitz continued the case to Aug. 25 to give prosecutors time to clarify. Spinks is due back in court for a status hearing on Oct. 7.

Charging documents in the case are here.

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