A man who was charged 10 years after a teenage mother was murdered in Hollister pleaded guilty on Thursday morning. Philip Dodd, 40, faces a prison sentence of 10 to 30 years (life) for second-degree murder.
Dodd admitted he strangled Becky Sutton, 19, and dumped her body in the Mark Twain National Forest. Sutton disappeared from her apartment in Hollister on March 21, 2003. Her 2-year-old son was left alone in the apartment. Sutton’s body turned up under a pile of rocks under a rocky ledge in the forest in Taney County in February 2004.
Dodd was a suspect for the disappearance and murder from the beginning but investigators didn’t have enough evidence for a charge until March 2013. Dodd was an estranged cousin-in-law of an ex-boyfriend of Sutton.
Sutton told a friend by phone that Dodd was at her apartment on March 21, 2003, and tried to seduce her, but she pushed him away and told him to leave. She told the friend that Dodd left after she threatened to call police.
Dodd initially denied to detectives that he had anything to do with Sutton’s disappearance, but detectives said he gave conflicting stories. Later, a woman told detectives that Dodd asked her to lie so he would have an alibi for that night, but she refused. Another woman later said Dodd told her he was at Sutton’s home that night, but another man killed her and took her body.
Last March, Missouri State Highway Patrol investigators interviewed Dodd at a state prison, where he is serving a 14-year sentence for robbing a credit union in Joplin in 2009. This time, Dodd told detectives that Sutton overdosed and died from narcotics that night. He said he then cleaned up the apartment and took her body to the forest, along with disposing of other evidence.
Four days later, detectives re-interviewed Dodd. This time, he admitted he went to Sutton’s apartment “hoping to get high and obtain sex,” according to the probable cause statement against him. When she resisted, he strangled her, disposed of her body in the forest, burned her bed linen at a construction site, and washed his car to try to conceal what he’d done.
Circuit Judge Mark Orr scheduled sentencing for Jan. 9. Taney County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Merrell said the guilty plea does not include a deal for him to recommend a certain sentence.