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With two key clues, N.C. men convicted of Rex murder

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

There were two clues.

The 21-year-old was found dumped on the side of the highway, shot once and left to die.

Clayton County Police responded to Ga. Highway 42, between Fielder Road and Lake Harbin Road on a Saturday afternoon in February 2006. They found Perry Dee Phillips and two very important clues.

"There was," police reported, "a cellular phone, and what appeared to be a right rear floor mat, from a Ford Expedition on the ground near the victim."

Two North Carolina men were convicted of Phillips' murder by a Clayton County jury late last week. They were connected to the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, prosecutors said, by the evidence the police found and the detectives followed all the way up to North Carolina.

Melissa Redmon, Clayton County assistant district attorney, said detectives Larry White and Frank Thomas found the phone next to a storm drain. It was open, like Phillips was trying to call someone, and was ringing.

"That's actually how they found it," Redmon said. "It was ringing."

Looking through previous phone calls, the detectives found the dead man's phone was called by a cell phone belonging to Treimain Davis Thomas, who lived on Southwood Drive, in Morrow. Thomas said his phone had been taken -- along with his 9 mm, Hi-Point handgun -- by three men from North Carolina who were visiting his roommate, Torrence Laseah McMillian.

"They'd used his phone to call a guy and buy marijuana," Redmon said. "Treimain Thomas told police there was some discussion about robbing a guy they bought marijuana from the night before."

Phillips, according to court records, was selling a little bit of marijuana from behind a Chevron Station on Ga. Highway 42, about five minutes from the Hollow Oak Drive house in Rex, where he lived with his girlfriend. According to her statements to the police, which were corroborated by the Chevron's security camera, Phillips went to the gas station on Friday night, got into a two-toned, gray and olive-green-colored Ford Expedition, and sold $10 worth of marijuana.

Phillips was called again, by the three men in the Expedition, the next day.

The Chevron security cameras show Phillips pulling up to pump No. 4, and parking his mom's burgundy, Nissan Sentra. He walked into the store, walked out of the store, got into the two-toned Ford Expedition, and never returned.

He was found, the next day, about a half mile away from the 1343 Ga. Highway 42 Chevron, next to the cell phone and the floor mat.

Thomas told the detectives he heard one of the North Carolina visitors saying, "This guy should not have 'bucked up,'" saying, he had to "shoot the guy," and saying he "shot the guy for playing tough."

According to Redmon, the three men in the Ford Expedition took about $210 and six $10 bags of marijuana, "and they shot him and left him on the side of the road."

The police pressured McMillian to name his friends, court records show, and McMillian said the one he knew was his cousin's boyfriend, Jermarae Rashawn Herbert, called "Jay," who lived up in Greenboro, N.C.

The detectives, Larry White and Frank Thomas, contacted the Greenboro police, found they knew who Herbert was and had him under investigation, at the time, for an unrelated North Carolina murder.

The Clayton County detective's drove north, finding Herbert, then 23, on Textile Drive. According to their report, Herbert said he went to buy marijuana with his friend, 26-year-old Michael Reginald McLean, but "Herbert maintained that he had no idea Mike was going to shoot anyone."

They found a two-toned, gray and olive-colored Ford Expedition, belonging to Herbert, parked a couple of blocks away.

"It had three floor mats," Redmon said. "It was missing the right rear floor mat, and the serial number, on the floor mat found at the scene, matched the ones on the truck in Greensboro."

Redmon argued, in three days of trial, that Herbert, McLean, and "a third party, as yet unknown," conspired to stick up Phillips on Feb. 18, 2006, knowing he would come and get into the back seat of the Ford to sell them $10 of marijuana.

Herbert was driving, according to Redmon, McLean was in the back seat, behind Herbert. When Phillips wouldn't give up the money, McLean shot him. The bullet went straight across the back seat, striking the 21-year-old in the lower part of his rib cage, killing him.

Herbert drove away, down 42, and the men dumped the dying man on the side of the road.

The jury, after deliberating for about five hours, found McLean, now 29, and Herbert, now 24, guilty of felony murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault.

The two men were sentenced to life in prison, court records show.