Esmeralda Gonzales

From Hays Daily News

Switzer Found Guilty

Dec.  30, 2004
Hays Daily News
HILL CITY - Coming in third in the year's top 10 stories is the murder of a 15-year-old Hill City girl and subsequent conviction of one of her 17-year-old school mates.

One of the last times Esmeralda Gonzales was seen alive was when a Hill City resident and sales clerk saw her with Phillip D.  "P.J." Switzer the night of Nov.  22, 2003, at a local convenience store. Prior to that, the two teens were seen leaving a party which took place at a Hill City residence that evening.

Switzer initially told Hill City Police Chief Russ Ingle he didn't know where Gonzales went after being with him at the store, later telling Ingle he was the "last one to see her alive."

Gonzales' body was found two days later east of Hill City in a tree row.

Initially charged as a juvenile, District Judge Bill Elliott on Jan.26, 2004, granted the state's request to try Switzer for first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping as an adult.

Switzer had asked for a jury consultants because he believes the state has an advantage over his local counsel because of money and manpower and that his mother's former job with the Hill City Police Department will cause him problems getting an impartial jury. Stonecipher recently resigned as assistant police chief of Hill City. Judge Elliott denied Switzer's request for consultants, saying most of the teen's claims are unsupported and not substantiated as to how a jury consultant could help him in his case.

On May 9, while being detained at the Ellis County Jail in Hays, Switzer and another inmate, Roger Gillett, 29, of Russell, made a failed attempt to escape.

Gillett was later extradited to Mississippi on murder charges, and Switzer will stand trial, again as an adult, in Ellis County in January for the escape attempt.

Switzer's week-long trial in Hill City concluded after eight hours of deliberation by a jury of nine women and three men who found him guilty of second-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping.

One of the most notable points of the trial was when autopsy photos were displayed on a board in front of the courtroom and Gonzales' mother rushed from the room in tears and screams of anguish. Elliott momentarily stopped the proceedings until those in the room regained their composure.

Graham County Attorney Tony Potter, along with assistant attorneys General John Bork and Nola Wright, Topeka, presented evidence placing Gonzales in the cab of Switzer's pickup; along with clothing she'd been wearing that bore marks on it from a bed liner matching the one from Switzer's pickup bed.

Prosecutors claimed Switzer attempted to have sex with Gonzales, but after her refusal, he strangled and murdered her by binding her upper body, neck, mouth, nose and eyes in 35 feet of black electrical tape before dumping her body in the tree row.

Jurors returned to the courtroom during their deliberation to have the court reporter read Ingle's testimony about Switzer lying about not having seen Gonzales after leaving the convenience store.

They also wanted to have read to them the testimony given by Switzer's jail mate Clay White, who said Switzer told him he strangled Gonzales after she resisted his attempt to have sex with her.

Switzer, who turned 18 on Oct. 29, was given a maximum sentence of 13 years and 9 months and both sentences will run consecutively to each other making him almost 45 years old when he gets out of prison.  He is currently in El Dorado Correctional Facility.

Sheriff Scott
Switzer's defense counsel, Paula D.  Hofaker, Logan, Randall W.Weller, Hill City, and Mark Dinkel, Salina, continue to claim the case against Switzer was merely "circumstantial,"  and have filed an appeal with the Kansas Court of Appeals in Topeka.  No court date has been set in the case.


Sentence grows longer for Switzer 

Mar. 30, 2005


Hays Daily News

It took less than 10 minutes this morning for Phillip D. “P.J.” Switzer Jr. to be sentenced to 10 years in prison on a charge associated with his failed attempt to escape from jail.

Switzer had pleaded guilty March 15 to a single felony count of battery against a county corrections officer. Three other charges filed in connection with the May 9 attempted escape from the Ellis County Jail.

Today's sentence, handed down by District Judge Tom Toepfer, will run consecutive to the sentence he faces in connection to his conviction last year on a second-degree murder charge in Graham County District Court.

He was convicted in August for the murder and aggravated kidnapping of 15-year-old Esmeralda Gonzales on Nov. 22, 2003.

Her body was found two days later in a row of trees east of Hill City.

Switzer has since appealed his conviction on those charges.

Switzer's failed escape attempt came as he was awaiting trial on the Graham County case.

In the escape attempt, Switzer and another jail inmate, Roger Gillett, overpowered jailer Dennis Schmidt, took his handheld police radio and locked Schmidt inside the east jail area.

Gillett was in the Ellis County Jail awaiting extradition to Mississippi on two counts of first-degree murder. He was charged with killing two people in Hattiesburg, Miss., stuffing their bodies into a chest freezer and hauling the freezer to a Russell County farm. That freezer was found March 29.

Schmidt was fired just days after Switzer and Gillett threw him to the ground and ran out of the maximum security unit of the jail. He was fired for not following departmental rules.

During today's brief hearing, Switzer's court-appointed attorney said that his client had written “a letter of apology to the jailer.”

The letter, Braun said, essentially amounted to a confession.

“It was sincere,” he said of the letter.

Toepfer then sentenced Switzer to 120 months in prison, to be served consecutive to the sentence handed down in Graham County. Once he is released, he will be on two year's probation and could seek expungement of his record on the attempted escape.

He was sentenced to 27 1/2 years in prison in the Graham County case, the maximum allowed by law.

Managing editor Mike Corn can be reached at (785) 628-1081, ext. 129, or by e-mail at

Link To Kansas Department of Corrections 
Public Kansas Adult Supervision Population Electronic Repository (KASPER)


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