Phillip Byrd of Janesville charged in ex-girlfriend's shooting death

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Neil Johnson
Thursday, April 3, 2014

MADISON—A Janesville man charged in the shooting death of a Mazomanie woman told police a handgun fired twice into the woman's head while he was trying to wrestle the gun from her hand, according to court documents.

Phillip A. Byrd, 39, Janesville, was charged Thursday in Dane County Court with domestic first-degree intentional homicide while armed in the Feb. 23 shooting of his former girlfriend, Cheryl Gilberg, Mazomanie.

In police interviews, Byrd claimed Gilberg pointed a .38 caliber revolver at him while they were in the bedroom of her home. She told him to get to his knees, and she put the gun into his mouth, according to the criminal complaint filed by the Dane County District Attorney's Office.

Byrd told police he wrestled Gilberg on her bed and on the floor for control of the gun. He said he hit her and put pillows and towels over her face to obstruct her vision. He's claimed the gun went off twice as he bent Gilberg's wrist to pull it free, but he doesn't know whether he or Gilberg pulled the trigger, according to the complaint.

Police investigators have a different theory. They believe Byrd wrapped a pillow around the handgun as a silencer before shooting Gilberg twice through her eye and ear, killing her, according to the complaint.

A pillow recovered in the bedroom near Gilberg's body had two bullet holes and burn marks that show a gun was “directed” into it before it was fired, according to the complaint.

Police found blood on the bed, and a pillow appeared to have been placed over it. Gilberg's body was found on the floor next to the bed, and it appeared she might have been moved there, according to the complaint.

Although Byrd did not admit pulling the trigger, he told police he fully expected—and wanted—Dane County prosecutors to charge him with Gilberg's death.

He said he's felt remorse over the shooting but said he “didn't kill her in cold blood.” He claims he's “woke up screaming” while in jail and has tried to press his eyes shut to suppress images of the shooting, according to the complaint.

“Nobody deserves any bad fate but me,” Byrd told investigators, according to the complaint. “I want every ramification … I won't resist … no matter what happens, it still doesn't bring her back.”

In court Thursday, Byrd stood mute to the charges and a not guilty plea was entered for him. He was ordered held on a $300,000 cash bond.

Byrd told police he was in the bathroom at Gilberg's house, and she pointed a handgun at him when he entered the bedroom. She ordered him to his knees, he said, and put the gun into his mouth, according to the complaint.

He said she was angry with him and accused him of “f---ing with her,” according to the complaint.

He said he “pleaded and begged” with her and was able to knock her hand away from his mouth. He claimed he then wrestled with Gilberg for control of the gun on the bed, putting pillows and towels over her face, according to the complaint.

They rolled off the bed onto the floor, Byrd said, and that's when he bent her wrist toward her face. The gun went off once, he said, and fired a second time as he tried to pull it back from her face, according to the complaint.

Byrd said he fled the house in his pickup truck, heading back to Janesville on Highway 14. He saw blood on the floor, but he said Gilberg was breathing when he left, according to the complaint.

He said he got nervous when he saw a police officer parked at a gas station. He pulled over on Highway 14 and threw the gun as far as he could, apparently into an area near some trees, according to the complaint.

Police said they have not found the gun.

Police later arrested Byrd on unrelated charges at a residence in Janesville. At the time, police found prescription medication belonging to Gilberg at the Janesville residence, according to reports. Police at the Janesville residence also found anabolic steroids and needles that belonged to Byrd, according to reports.

Byrd, who was a former champion high school wrestler at Janesville Parker High School, and is a body builder, has what police described as “a very strong upper body and defined musculature.”

Police say Gilberg, who was a victim of a 2008 drunken driving crash, had serious back injuries. She was on multiple pain medications and had a spinal stimulator placed in her back to minimize pain from the injuries.

Police indicated that in a physical altercation, there would have been a “significant physical disparity” between Gilberg and Byrd.

Last updated: 1:52 pm Thursday, April 3, 2014

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