Jan. 24--Lyle "Ty" Hoffman admitted Friday in a St. Paul courtroom that he shot his former boyfriend and business partner last summer at an Arden Hills gas station.
Hoffman, 44, pleaded guilty to one count of intentional second-degree murder of Kelly Phillips, 48, on Aug. 11.
He likely will be sentenced to 25 1/2 years, under a plea agreement, when he is sentenced March 17 in Ramsey County District Court.
"There is no penalty strong enough," Jim Phillips, the slain man's father, said after Friday's hearing. "We lost what we loved."
The victim's mother, Judy Phillips, found some relief. "This is better than going through a trial," she said.
In 2009, Hoffman and Phillips, a Boston Scientific executive, opened Lush Food Bar, a popular gay club in Northeast Minneapolis. Phillips was the bar's owner and Hoffman the manager, court documents indicate.
At some point, the two ended their romantic relationship, and Hoffman was fired and evicted from Phillips' Minneapolis residence, according to the criminal charges. Phillips became engaged to marry another man Aug. 11, 2013.
Exactly a year later, Phillips' BMW pulled into a Holiday gas station in Arden Hills after 8 a.m. not far from where Phillips worked. Witnesses said they heard arguing from the car, then saw Phillips run from the vehicle.
A man identified as Hoffman followed Phillips with a gun and shot him twice from a distance and once at point-blank range in the back of the head while he was on his knees, according to the criminal complaint.
Hoffman then fled in the BMW.
During Friday's plea hearing, county prosecutor Shereen Askalani questioned Hoffman about the shooting to confirm he was admitting to facts in the criminal complaint.
Hoffman was unemotional and offered a few of his own details about what led to the shooting.
He said he had been walking in the area of Phillips' Minneapolis condo on the morning of Aug. 11 and bumped into Phillips, whom he hadn't seen in months, while Phillips was walking his dog. The two chatted, Hoffman said, and Phillips agreed to let Hoffman use his BMW because Hoffman's car had broken down.
Hoffman admitted that he had a loaded gun with him at the time. Asked why, he said, "I had the gun because it was in my car and I was worried it was going to get towed."
He said the two got into Phillips' vehicle; Hoffman drove because he was going to drop Phillips off at Boston Scientific. Phillips was riding in the back seat because Hoffman "had papers for him to look at," he told the court.
Once in the car, the two started arguing about percentage ownership of the business, Hoffman said. "We stopped at the gas station because we got into a heated argument," he said. "I just wanted to get out of the car."
But Phillips got out of the car first and approached the driver's door, where the two had "a brief struggle," Hoffman said.
"After the struggle -- it was only four seconds -- when he turned around, yeah, there were three shots," Hoffman said. "I didn't really aim. ... But he was definitely turning around and fleeing."
Askalani asked Hoffman about the three gunshots, including the point-blank shot to the head that witnesses reported. Hoffman again said he wasn't aiming but admitted Phillips "was falling" and that he fired "in that general direction."
Hoffman said he intended to kill Phillips when he fired.
Phillips' car later was found hidden in Blaine, not far from where Hoffman grew up.
What followed was a monthlong manhunt as reports of Hoffman sightings came in from across the Twin Cities.
Video footage described in the complaint showed Hoffman leaving a downtown Minneapolis condo he had been staying at just before 5 a.m. the day Phillips died. Investigators later found a suitcase packed with his belongings and a loaded .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic magazine at the residence.
After he shot Phillips with a Glock handgun and abandoned the BMW, the criminal complaint said, Hoffman used a bicycle, taxis and a bus to move around the metro area.
According to the complaint, he robbed a TCF bank in Blaine, bought clothes and a cell phone at a Target in Richfield and even visited Mystic Lake casino in Prior Lake.
Hoffman was arrested Sept. 11 after he was spotted at an Arby's restaurant in Shakopee.
After Friday's hearing Phillips' family and friends spoke briefly to reporters.
His parents said the family has drawn close to support one another and that they know Phillips is looking down on them.
"He knows how much we love him," Jim Phillips said. "He knows how much he's missed."
Kelly Phillips' fiance, Nathon Bailey, said that Hoffman's version of events wasn't completely truthful and that he didn't feel the proposed sentence offered a sense of justice.
"I don't think justice was served," Bailey said. "No amount of time will be the appropriate amount of punishment for what he did. It was heartbreaking to hear him conjure up stories about what happened."
Elizabeth Mohr can be reached at 651-228-5162. Follow her at twitter.com/LizMohr.
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