Cold case suspect takes deal in 1997 murder

Samuel Lee Etheridge, 47, pictured in his jail booking photo when he was extradited to Oregon from North Carolina (Multnomah County Sheriff's Office)
Samuel Lee Etheridge, 47, pictured in his jail booking photo when he was extradited to Oregon from North Carolina (Multnomah County Sheriff's Office)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The suspect in a cold case homicide case took a plea deal accepting responsibility for stabbing and killing a man . The motive for the killing: the victim made sexual advances, court documents state.

Samuel Lee Etheridge, now 47, was arrested in April 2012 for the May 4, 1997 murder of John Phillips, 57, police said.

Etheridge met Phillips at a downtown bar and the two started to drink, prosecutor Jeff Howes said at a bail hearing in July.

The two men went back to a house that had been subdivided into separate apartment units in the 3900-block of North Albina Avenue and immediately went to Phillips’ bedroom, Howes said.

A housemate of the victim’s was told that Phillips was going to take a nap, a newly unsealed arrest warrant states.

The housemate told detectives at the time they heard what sounded like loud thumping, Howes said. The person thought told investigators that the man who entered the bedroom had red-hair, which matches the hair color of Etheridge.

The person said after a two hours passed, they checked the hallway and saw Etheridge quickly exiting carrying two suitcases, detectives have stated.

The housemate then checked on Phillips and found him under the sheets bleeding, investigators said. A medical examiner reported he was killed from multiple stab wounds. The official report shows more 14 stab wounds, an arrest warrant states.

Detectives were able to collect evidence, including a cup with Etheridge’s DNA profile, from the apartment that proved he was in the bedroom, Howes said at the bail hearing in July.

Etheridge was arrested in Dare County, North Carolina on April 30, 2013. At the time, he was living in Wanchese. He had been convicted of a crime in North Carolina, which is when a DNA profile of his was entered into a national database.

On March 25, 2011 several of the items collected at the scene were re-submitted to the Oregon State Police Crime Lab for testing.

When cold case detectives picked up the case in January 2012, they were able to get an arrest warrant for Etheridge after the DNA match was revealed. On May 2, 2012 a DNA profile belonging to Etheridge was found on a cigarette that was left beneath the victim’s body.

Detectives Meredith Hopper and Detective Mary Wheat of the Portland Police Bureau Cold Case Homicide Unit flew to North Carolina where they interviewed Etheridge.

He admitted that he assaulted Phillips but denied stabbing him. Etheridge claimed that Phillips had made sexual advances toward him and that he beat him and when he left the house, the man was not moving.

A Multnomah County Grand Jury indicted him on one count of murder. On Thursday, he plead no contest to the lesser included charge of first-degree manslaughter.

Etheridge spoke confidently if he wanted to move forward with the plea deal.

He will be formally sentenced to just over 16 years in prison by Judge Eric J. Bergstrom on July 10, 2013. As part of the plea deal, he will be able to serve his time in North Carolina.

— Brent Weisberg

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