HOUSTON -- A former security guard accused of strangling Alley Theater Director Iris Siff said Wednesday he only wanted to rob her, but Mrs. Siff put up such a fight he had to kill her to save his own life.
'I didn't feel I had done anything that wrong. I felt it was almost an act of self defense. I should be charged with unlawful entry,' Clifford X. Phillips, 47, said in an interview room at the Harris County Rehabilitation Center.
Phillips, who earlier gave authorities a confession, is jailed without bond on a capital murder charge.
Detective Steve Garza said evidence supported Phillips' description of the killing, although police reject the suspect's suggestion he acted in self-defense. Garza said Mrs. Siff, who was 5-fee-6 and weighed 130 pounds, was almost as big as Phillips, 5-fee-7, 140 pounds, and friends had said she would fight hard for her life.
Phillips said the 58-year-old woman's struggle against him lasted 20 minutes and was so valiant he developed 'a lot of respect for her.' He said she would not be strangled by hand so he garroted her with a telephone cord.
Phillips said he went to the theater, where he had worked from mid-November to mid-December before being fired for tardiness, in the early morning hours of Jan. 13 with the intention of stealing to buy food and drugs.
He said he was acting entirely alone when he slipped through an unlocked door, climbed to the fourth floor suite where Mrs. Siff was typing, reached inside her door, switched off the lights and told her he only wanted money.
'She just jumped up and charged into me,' Phillips said. 'She came out charging like a raging bull. She was just punching and kicking me. My job was to try to restrain her if I could.'
Phillips said she kicked him in the groin repeatedly.
'I'm not really thinking clearly (at the time), but I didn't think she would do anything like that. She was very enraged,' Phillips said. 'I tried to hold onto her arms and hands.
'She was strong. She was upsetting things. I got sort of scared. So I began to choke her, thinking I could refrain her from kicking me like she was doing (in the groin).'
Phillips said Mrs. Siff then fell to the floor.
'It was at that time that I knew I had to make some kind of decision. It was a matter of life and death at that point. I felt I was as good as dead if she overcame me, which she almost did.'
He said he strangled her with the phone cord, she revived, and he strangled her with the cord again.
'I had a lot of respect for her because I knew it was a fight for my life or her life,' Phillips said. 'I could see she was a very dignified woman, and I admire her really.'
Phillips said after Mrs. Siff appeared dead, he took a television set, a fur coat, a watch and a ring. He took the keys to her car, went down to the parking lot and drove her Lincoln Continental away.
Attorney Joe Cannon, who was appointed to defend Phillips in the middle of a series of interviews Phillips had scheduled, cut off the interviews. Garza said he expected Phillips' conversations to force moving the trial to another city.