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San Diego mother of murdered boy says governor got this one wrong

Posted: 6:18 PM, Mar 13, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-14 15:42:29Z
Melina Sellers Phillips.png

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The San Diego mother of a murdered boy believes Gov. Gavin Newsom got it wrong Wednesday when he announced a moratorium on executions in California.

Milena Sellers Phillips lost her 9-year-old son Jonathan 26 years ago this month to a man who has now been on death row for some 16 years. When she heard Newsom was declaring a moratorium on executions, she made an immediate call to his office.

"Unfortunately, I think he's wrong there," said Phillips, referring to Newsom’s claim the death penalty is out of sync with the core values of Californians. "I think our core value is to see to it that people are punished for their crimes. My baby was 9 years old. Oh, believe me -- my core value is that he [Scott Erskine] should not be alive."

Phillips recalls the brutal 1993 crime by Erskine when he abducted, tortured, sexually assaulted and murdered Jonathan and his 13-year-old friend Charlie Keever.

"When you molest, and you torture, and you murder two kids on purpose, who did absolutely nothing … what I want is for him to have the most stringent punishment that we as a people have chosen,” said Phillips.

Phillips has believed execution would be that most stringent penalty. However, over the years, she has come to accept that may not happen in California, where an execution hasn't been carried out since 2006.

Erskine is now even more likely to escape the ultimate penalty, and Phillips said a call to the governor's office did give her some relief when she was assured by a staff member Erskine's death row status will not change.

"Those that are on death row will stay on death row. Their living conditions stay exactly the same, and that's what I wanted more than anything else," Phillips said.

Death row inmates’ living conditions include being separated from the rest of the general prison population and only being allowed out of their cells one hour a day.

The sentence may be as close to death as California will now get.

"He [Erskine] knows because he's in California that he won't die any time soon. He'll die of old age, but he doesn't like where he's at. He doesn't like how's he's living," Phillips said.

Phillips said Charlie Keevers' mother, Maria, also strongly objects to the governor's decision.

She said she and Maria speak often, especially in March -- the month when their sons were killed. Eight years later, the month when their murderer was found. And now, the month when his chance at execution was lifted.

While the pain of her son's murder will always be with her, Phillips said she has found happiness. She has five other grown children, an adopted son, and 14 grandchildren.

Phillips also works as an actress and school nurse in Fallbrook and considers all the kids her children. She's committed to keeping all of them safe as she wears a pendant every day with a photo of Jonathan.