Missouri military officer pleads guilty in homicide

Friday, April 12, 2013 | 10:11 a.m. CDT

CLAYTON — A military police officer from suburban St. Louis has admitted that he killed a woman and her unborn child to protect his career.

Phillip C. Parish of Moline Acres pleaded guilty Thursday to second-degree murder. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that as part of a plea deal he will be sentenced to life in prison — which amounts to 30 years — plus another 20 years in prison. He was originally charged with first-degree murder.

Parish was on leave from Afghanistan when he shot and killed 20-year-old Tabitha Buckingham in May 2011 because he thought she was pregnant with his child. He believed the birth of the child would ruin his military career. He was a 20-year-old private first-class at the time.

Buckingham's body was found nearly three days after she was shot at her St. Ann apartment. She had been shot twice in the head. Her 2-year-old daughter was dehydrated and asleep beside her. Her unborn child of four months did not survive. The unborn child turned out not to be Parish's.

Parish returned to Afghanistan the day after the shooting. His current status with the military is unknown.

Prosecutors said Parish and a friend went to Buckingham's apartment. The friend stayed outside, but Parish told the friend of the crime.

Police found Buckingham's cellphone at the house of a friend of Parish, who told authorities that Parish had asked him to discard it. Parish also got rid of the shirt he was wearing that day, prosecutors said.

More than 40 members of Buckingham's family showed for the plea hearing.

"They were just very saddened by her loss, very upset," assistant prosecutor John Quarenghi said. "They all realized, as we did, that it was a pointless killing."

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