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Tucson socialite gets life term for ex-husband's car-bomb death

By Paul Ingram

TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - A former Arizona socialite was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday for the 1996 car-bomb killing of her ex-husband, a prominent real estate developer, in the parking lot of a Tucson resort.

Pamela Phillips, 57, was convicted in April of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the fiery death of ex-husband, Gary Triano, that shocked the community and remained unsolved for years.

She was sentenced in Pima County Superior Court to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 25 years for the conspiracy charge, and natural life for first-degree murder.

In the seven-week trial, prosecutors said Phillips killed her husband in order to collect on a $2 million life insurance policy so she could continue the lavish lifestyle to which she had grown accustomed during their marriage.

Prosecutors said the socialite paid a former boyfriend Ronald Young $400,000 to carry out the killing. Triano died when a pipe bomb exploded in the front seat of his car in November 1996, shredding the vehicle and sending shards flying hundreds of feet away.

Young was convicted of first-degree murder in 2010 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Phillips maintained her innocence throughout the trial.

"It's a nightmare," she said during the hearing. "Gary was my husband and the father of my children. I don't understand how this could even happen. I want you all to know that I am innocent."

Defense attorney Paul L. Eckerstrom asked the judge to mitigate the sentence, arguing that his client was innocent and blaming media coverage of the case and Young's conviction for the result.

"This is one of the hardest things I've had to do in my career, to watch my client be sentenced when I know she's innocent," he said. "I did my best to convince the jury with the mountain of evidence we had."

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)

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