Baby Kate’s mother testifies in trial.

September 29, 2016
Ariel Courtland, mother of Katherine Phillips, holds up the carseat that Katherine was last seen in.

Ariel Courtland, mother of Katherine Phillips, holds up the carseat that Katherine was last seen in.

Prosecutor Donna Pendergast holds up a picture of Baby Kate.

Prosecutor Donna Pendergast holds up a picture of Baby Kate.

#MasonCountyNews #BabyKate

By Allison Scarbrough. Editor.

LUDINGTON — Katherine Phillips’ mother, Ariel Courtland, 24, was called to the stand in 51st Circuit Court Thursday, Sept. 29, as the first of 60 witnesses slated to testify in the three-week murder trial of the baby’s father, Sean Phillips.

Courtland’s testimony followed opening statements by Prosecutor Donna Pendergast of the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and Defense Attorney David Glancy.

Phillips, 26, is on trial for allegedly murdering his 4-month-old daughter, Katherine Shelby Elizabeth Phillips, also known as Baby Kate. He was the last person seen with the infant on June 29, 2011 after he had a paternity test but just prior to Baby Kate taking a DNA test, according to Pendergast.

Phillips was sentenced to 10-15 years in prison in 2012 for unlawful imprisonment. Law enforcement officials from both Ludington Police Department and Mason County Sheriff’s Office have said multiple times that there is no evidence indicating that Courtland should be a suspect in the case.

“She was anything but ‘Daddy’s little girl,’ she was his dirty little secret,” stated Pendergast in her opening statement. The prosecutor said Phillips committed “a cold-blooded, calculated, pre-meditated, deliberate elimination of a human life — the life of a baby.” She described Phillips’ actions on June 29, 2011 as “a sinister turn of events.” She directly addressed the defendant, stating, “Sean Michael Phillips, you know what you did, and now we do too.”

Glancy portrayed Phillips as a much different person in his opening statement, stating that Phillips was “a good father.” He told the jury that the prosecution has “the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt” to prove Phillips’ guilt. The attorney said the prosecution can’t prove that there was death, because Baby Kate’s body was never found. “If you do believe there was was a death, it was not premeditated,” Glancy said.

The trial recessed for lunch at noon and was expected to resume at 1:15 p.m. Courtland’s testimony will continue. During the morning session, Pendergast presented five exhibits, including a photo of Baby Kate, the baby’s birth certificate, the baby’s birth announcements, the clothes Baby Kate was wearing the day she disappeared and her carseat. Pendergast questioned Courtland at length regarding Phillips’ alleged insistence that Courtland have an abortion and his later insistence that she put the child up for adoption. “He would get mad when I told him I wanted to keep Kate,” Courtland testified.

Glancy will have an opportunity to cross examine Courtland after Pendergast has completed her questioning.

The evidence against Phillips murdering his daughter is mostly circumstantial, because her body has never been found. One of the key pieces of evidence is a letter Phillips allegedly wrote to Courtland early in his prison term. In the letter, which is unsigned but presumed to have been written by Phillips, the author claims he hurt Baby Kate after he drove away from Courtland following an argument at her apartment. He then drove to Wendy’s restaurant on US 10 in Pere Marquette Township where he grabbed the carseat, with the child in it, and threw the carseat, allegedly killing her at that time. The letter was written in July 2012, three months after Phillips was sentenced.

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