by Eric Laughlin,
The Mountain Democrat, staff writer, April 27, 2008, 14:30

In an emotional sentencing session Friday, cold case murderer Phillip Arthur Thompson was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Judge James R. Wagoner told the 62-year-old killer that he would rather have given him a stiffer sentence, but said he had no choice but to use 1971 sentencing guidelines. In that year the penalty for first-degree murder was a life term with parole eligibility every seven years.

After Thompson's six week long trial, a jury found him guilty of the first-degree murder for the nearly four-decade-old brutal slaying of 21-year-old Betty Marie Cloer, whose body was found shot and bludgeoned off Cambridge Road in Cameron Park.

Cloer's family members were present at Friday's sentencing and were given the opportunity to speak. They included her son Robert, who was just 5 years old when his mother was taken from him. The now 42-year-old Oregon man, who grew up with his grandparents, told Thompson he is a 'cancerous plague who feeds on the innocent of our society.'

'Did she mention me while pleading for her life?' Cloer asked Thompson without looking at him. He later said, 'Most of all I wish God would grant you a conscience while you wait for your death behind the concrete and steel of our justice system.'

Betty Cloer's older sister Anita McClure told of how her baby sister grew up to be a phenomenal woman and a great mother. She concluded her statement to Judge Wagoner by asking him to 'never give this person the opportunity to destroy again, to devastate another family.'

The third victim to address the court was Don Cole, an Oregon man who had been dating Cloer up until her murder. Cole, who exchanged letters with Cloer while he was in Vietnam, has become very close with Robert Cloer in the past few years.

'I honestly believe that even at his age, if he is released he will kill again,' Cole told Wagoner.

Wagoner then proceeded to formally sentence Thompson; he ruled to award him zero time credits for the five years he's been in the El Dorado County Jail. He also ruled to run his sentence consecutive to the San Mateo County robbery sentence Thompson already had been serving in Vacaville at the time of his 2003 arrest. Wagoner also ordered that Thompson pay restitution (an amount yet to be decided) to the Cloer family. The funds will come out of his prison wages.

Outside the courtroom, the Cloer family appeared happy, but said they would rather have seen a sentence without parole eligibility.

'It's brings closure,' McClure said. 'But I don't like the fact that we're going to have to come down here every seven years to fight to keep him in.'

Cousin Bobbie Johnson then joked, 'On the other hand, maybe it's a good thing to have him get his hopes up every seven years only to see them repeatedly squashed.'

After the verdict reading weeks ago, prosecutor Trish Kelliher told the panel of convicting jurors that it is unlikely Thompson will ever get released.

Four of the jurors were present at the sentencing. None wished to speak on the record, but one woman juror was crying as she left the courtroom.

In addition to addressing Thompson, Robert Cloer also thanked the El Dorado County officials who brought justice to his mom's murder. He even complimented lead detective Rick Fitzgerald by referencing him as a 'rabid pit bull.'

Retired detective Hal Lamb was the sheriff's official who first re-opened the case in 2002. He postponed his planned retirement for a year to work on the case.

'I wanted to hang on at least until it got to the preliminary stage in court,' Lamb said Friday. On the DNA hit that connected Thompson to the murder, Lamb said, 'It says a lot about technology. If it weren't for that I don't think we'd be here today.'

Thompson, who did not show any noticeable emotion during the victims' statements, was returned to the jail pending transfer to state prison.

Detective Fitzgerald has said there is evidence that the aging crook killed at least eight to 10 others over the years. Fitzgerald also said there is evidence suggesting Thompson worked for the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1970s and '80s.

E-mail Eric Laughlin at or call (530) 344-5064