Janesville man charged in death of ex-girlfriend

Scales of justice
WLUK file photo.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A Massachusetts steelworker charged with shooting his former girlfriend told investigators they had magical chemistry until the day she stuck a gun in his mouth, prompting a struggle that ended with her dead, according to court documents filed Thursday.

Dane County prosecutors charged 39-year-old Phillip Byrd with first-degree intentional homicide in Cheryl Gilberg’s February death. He would face life in prison if he’s convicted. Byrd’s attorney, assistant public defender Murali Jasti, declined to comment Thursday.

According to the criminal complaint, sheriff’s deputies discovered the 43-year-old Gilberg dead in her Mazomanie home on Feb. 23. She had been shot twice in the head and her pink .38 caliber revolver was missing.

Investigators learned Byrd was a former boyfriend of Gilberg’s. They found him in Janesville and arrested him on Feb. 24 for outstanding child support warrants as well as an operating while intoxicated warrant. The complaint doesn’t specify how detectives learned of Byrd or how they tracked him to Janesville. He has been held in the Rock County jail since he was arrested.

Byrd told investigators during a pair of interviews days after he was arrested that he adored Gilberg, the complaint said.

“Like, you know, to the best of my knowledge, is that there was magic there between me and her,” Byrd said. “Like, I, I’ve never, I guess, put a female on such a pedestal as I did her. I never even had the feelings for another female like I had with her.”

He was at her house on Feb. 23 when she pointed her revolver at him. He said he had a bad feeling after “everything that had transpired with me and her last week.” The complaint doesn’t offer any explanation of what had occurred previously.

Byrd said he pleaded with Gilberg to let him leave, but she forced him onto his knees and put the gun in his mouth, the complaint said.

He knocked the gun out of his mouth and tackled her, according to the complaint. As the two were wrestling, the gun went off twice, he said. He saw Gilberg lying on the floor but thought she was still alive, he told investigators. He became frightened and drove off, taking the gun with him.

He eventually pulled over, threw the gun away and then drove the trailer of a woman the complaint identified only as Christina, according to the complaint. The document doesn’t give her last name or explain who she is.

Byrd told investigators he can barely live with the guilt.

“I woke up screaming last night trying to close my eyes and that’s when the picture of everything came of what happened. Of that gun going off,” he told investigators, according to the complaint.

Byrd made a brief court appearance Thursday in Madison. He looked on silently as Assistant District Attorney Corey Stephan asked Court Commissioner Todd Meurer to set bail at $1 million cash.

Stephan said Byrd’s steelworker job has given him contacts across the country and he moves around frequently. Byrd is addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol and “the fact of the matter is he killed a woman,” Stephan said.

Jasti countered that it wouldn’t matter if Meurer set bail at $1 million or $1,000 because Byrd doesn’t have the money.

Meurer ultimately set bail at $300,000 and scheduled a status conference for April 21.

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