NORTON, Va. (WRIC) — Charges have been abruptly dropped against a man accused of killing a fellow prisoner in the solitary wing of Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison.
Anwar Phillips was found dead by prison staff in the early morning hours of Jan. 4, 2022. Now, more than a year after his death, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Wise County and the City of Norton have dropped charges against his suspected killer, a fellow prisoner named William Pettigrew.
When asked why the charges had been dropped, a representative of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said, “The evidence that we have at this time did not meet the burden of proof to prosecute.”
But the office also emphasized that because the charges had been “Nolle Prossed” they could still be brought again if more evidence is uncovered.
That now seems unlikely, as VADOC told 8News they gave prosecutors full access to all surveillance video from that night, and that “there is no further investigation at this time.”
Vernetta Phillips, Anwar’s mother, said she was “devastated” by the decision to drop the case, and that she is “still wondering who murdered my child.”
She also said she had not been informed of the decision to drop the case by the Commonwealth’s Attorney, and only became aware of that decision when she was contacted by 8News.
Anwar Phillips and William Pettigrew were both held in separate solitary cells at the time of Phillips’ death by strangulation, and Vernetta Phillips’ told 8News that prosecutors believed Pettigrew transferred a hand-braided rope from his cell to Phillips’ and used that to strangle him.
Both Red Onion and Wallens Ridge — the state’s two super-max prisons — are now the subject of a class-action lawsuit by a group of prisoners who allege that the state has systematically violated their constitutional rights through its use of solitary confinement.