Eleven days after his involvement in the July 2018 slaying of an Omaha man, Phillip Figures shot a glare at his wife of eight years, warning her not to tell anyone.
Not her family. Not her friends. And definitely not the “people,” his code word for police.
“He didn’t look at me; he looked through me,” Vanessa Figures testified Wednesday. “He said, ‘Don’t make me kill you, Vanessa.’ ”
“How did you feel?” prosecutor Beth Beninato asked.
“Like I would be dead by midnight,” she said. “I felt it in my soul.”
It was a soul-searching day Wednesday in Douglas County Courtroom No. 414 — one that provided a rare sight: a woman testifying against her former husband in a murder case.
Phillip Figures’ defense attorney, J. Robert Black, had tried to stop that testimony at an earlier hearing, saying spousal privilege barred Vanessa Figures from taking the stand. However, that privilege — the ability to tell your spouse something without it coming back to haunt you — can’t be invoked in cases of confessions to violent crimes.
And so Vanessa Figures left little unsaid as her former husband’s two-week trial began in the July 2018 death of Frederick Green, 57. The scene was so unique, the tension so palpable, that a relative of Phillip Figures was escorted from the courtroom after making several gestures at Vanessa.
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According to her six-hour testimony:
Phillip and Vanessa Figures, who had known each other since they were teens, married in 2011.
Vanessa had worked for a while in a hospital. Then she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia — and stayed at home, earning disability payments, focusing on her battle with cancer and occasionally dealing the prescription painkillers she didn’t use.
Her husband didn’t work, save for occasional temporary jobs. In 2018, he sold drugs and made plans to rob other drug dealers.
One of those plans: Phillip and an Omaha man, a friend since childhood, wanted to rob Green, a man who had just been paroled after a prison stint for dealing crack cocaine.
Green’s girlfriend, Cynthia Anderson, said Green was a kind, outgoing man who worked full time at a Council Bluffs car dealership after he was paroled in 2018. Despite his day job and despite his parole status, Anderson acknowledged, her boyfriend hadn’t completely shed what Anderson called his “street business.”
Neither had Phillip Figures.
In July 2017, Vanessa Figures said, her husband would get up early, leave the couple’s Bellevue home, drive to a northeast Omaha house and spend the morning planning the robbery with an Omaha man. That friend has not been charged in Green’s slaying; prosecutors say they don’t have enough evidence.
Phillip Figures would return home, pumped about the prospect of making substantial money.
How much did he talk about it? prosecutors asked.
“All the time,” Vanessa Figures said. “Damn near every day.”
Vanessa Figures brushed off the talk as just that. Then came July 15, 2018.
As usual, Phillip Figures left the house early that Sunday to meet with the same friend.
He returned home, rushing into their bedroom. When he next appeared, Vanessa said, he had tucked a bundle of dark sweat pants and a thermal black undershirt under his arm.
She asked why he was carting winter clothes on a “100-some degree day.”
“We got to go do it now — (Green is gone and his) lady is at home by herself,” Phillip Figures responded, according to his wife.
He bolted out the door. When he returned in the early afternoon, Vanessa said, he was frantic.
“He’s hyper, he’s pumped up,” Vanessa Figures said. “He said, ‘Baby, come here, come here. He killed him! (My friend) killed the (expletive)!’ ”
“I was like, ‘Killed who?’ ” Vanessa testified. “And he said, ‘the (expletive) — Fred Green.’ ”
Vanessa said her husband described how the killing unfolded:
Phillip Figures and the gunman parked around the corner from Anderson and Green’s well-kept home near 35th Street and Newport Avenue.
When they arrived after noon, only a screen door stood between them and Green, who was eating lunch in the living room.
The two burst through the door. Figures’ friend raised a gun and, palm down, pointed it at Green.
“You know what time it is, (expletive),” the gunman called out.
Green was on the phone — talking to a former girlfriend, who just happened to be the gunman’s sister. Green urged the woman on the phone to tell her brother, the gunman, to calm down.
It didn’t work.
Phillip Figures began beating on Green with his fists and whipping him with a stun gun.
The two intruders eventually dragged Green to the basement. In the course of the beating, Phillip Figures said, the back of the stun gun fell off, spilling the batteries. Figures told his wife he picked up the batteries but couldn’t find the backing. (Omaha police found it later in Green’s basement.)
Figures told the gunman to watch over Green, while he went to look for the cash.
As he ascended the steps, Figures heard a shot. Figures turned to find Green, grabbing for his leg and begging for his life. The gunman began to panic.
“I gotta kill him, I gotta kill him, he’s gonna snitch,” the gunman said, according to Figures’ account to his wife.
“Kill him then, cuz,” Phillip Figures responded, according to his account to his wife.
The gunman shot Green in the head, neck and back, killing him.
When he arrived back in Bellevue, Phillip Figures burst through the door and immediately went to his wife to show and tell. The tell: they had netted about $2,000 in cash.
The show: Phillip pulled out a necklace with a crucifix and a gold ring attached. Green’s necklace.
Vanessa asked why he had kept the victim’s jewelry. She suggested that he burn the clothes he was wearing. And she told him it was “stupid” for him to have had his cellphone on.
Over the next several days, Phillip Figures’ panic turned to paranoia, Vanessa Figures said. Moody and tense, he turned any conversation to talk of the murder.
His behavior was erratic, but Vanessa said it wasn’t threatening — until July 26, 2018. The couple argued over “something stupid.” As he often did, Phillip Figures packed up his belongings and left.
Vanessa Figures told him to never come back. “I was tired and fed up,” she said.
She didn’t relent, despite his pleas. And Phillip became more and more belligerent, culminating with his “don’t make me kill you” threat.
Black, Figures’ attorney, questioned whether Vanessa Figures had concocted Phillip’s purported confession because she was incensed that Phillip Figures had moved out. Black also pointed out that when she went to police, Vanessa Figures asked Omaha police to give her the department’s $25,000 Crime Stoppers reward.
Vanessa acknowledged that she inquired about the reward, but only because she wanted to relocate her and her then-13-year-old daughter.
Vanessa told prosecutors she had no idea what Phillip, or his gunman friend, might do. So on July 26, she grabbed her daughter and, from the side yard, fetched the gold chain that Phillip Figures told her he stole from Fred Green.
She went to Papillion police — the only station she knew of in Sarpy County — to report the threat. The matter was referred to Omaha police, who interviewed Vanessa and arrested Phillip.
Vanessa testified that she probably wouldn’t have told anyone about her husband’s involvement in the slaying if not for the threat.
“At some point, I did love this person,” she said. “This is not what I wanted this to come to.”
She swiveled in the witness chair and looked at her ex-husband. He sat with his chin in his palm.
”I wasn’t going to tell anyone,” she said, eyeballing him. “But I thought I would end up dead.
”I just wanted to be left alone.”