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EHT man indicted in hammer murder can't see children

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MAYS LANDING — Sarah Phillips’ four young children were home when she was allegedly murdered with a hammer by her boyfriend last month, according to statements in court Wednesday.

Lashaun Smith, 36, was indicted Dec. 5 on murder and weapons charges in the death of Phillips, 28, in Egg Harbor Township. On Wednesday, he was ordered not to contact their four children, ages 5 to 10, by Judge John Rauh during a post-indictment arraignment in Atlantic County Criminal Court.

Smith, represented by public defender Stephen Funk, pleaded not guilty, but the conference was extended to Jan. 17 so attorneys could exchange discovery.

Statements by Atlantic County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy during Smith’s detention hearing last month indicate Smith had a history of domestic violence, including pending charges from Aug. 14 for simple assault on Phillips.

First Assistant Prosecutor Cary Shill, representing the state Wednesday, requested Smith not be allowed contact with his children, who are in the custody of Phillips’ mother, Paula Modelle.

Modelle, who was seated in the back of the courtroom with Phillips’ father and brother, was calm and expressionless during the hearing.

“They are his children, so I don’t believe that the court does have authority to keep Mr. Smith from seeing his own children,” Funk argued, noting Modelle was not likely to bring the children to the jail to visit Smith.

“The children were actually in the home when the murder occurred, and I think they should be recognized as survivors. And I think the court has the authority to do that,” Shill said.

Rauh called it a “practical matter” because the children are staying with the maternal grandmother and said he does have the authority to do that, granting the prosecution’s no-contact request.

Smith was arrested after Egg Harbor Township police, responding to a call at 5:04 a.m. Nov. 3, found Phillips inside a home on the first block of South Zion Road.

An investigation by the prosecutor’s Major Crimes Unit and township police found Phillips was struck multiple times with a hammer. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be homicide due to multiple blunt- and sharp-force injuries.

GoFundMe campaigns have been set up by Phillips’ family for her children.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.