Case against Phillips based on circumstantial evidence

October 8, 2013
Baby Kate's clothes found on Phillips when he was arrested.

Baby Kate’s clothes found on Phillips when he was arrested.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — The case against Sean Michael Phillips — the man accused of killing his infant daughter — is based on a variety of circumstantial evidence collected through testimony and by Sean’s own writing.

MCP has acquired a copy of the transcript from the Oct. 4, 2013 probable cause hearing that determined murder charges would be filed against Phillips. The 23-year-old Victory Township resident was arraigned on Friday, Oct. 4 in the 79th District Court. Earlier that day, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, along with Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola, announced the two offices would pursuit the charges jointly against Phillips.

Phillips is currently serving a 10 to 15 year prison sentence for the unlawful imprisonment of Katherine Shelby-Elizabeth Phillips. Katherine, also known as “Baby Kate” was just over 4-months-old when she disappeared on June 29, 2011.

An alleged confession letter by Phillips, written from prison in August 2012, explained what happened the day Baby Kate disappeared. This is one of the key pieces of circumstantial evidence against Phillips, Mason County Sheriff’s Detective Michael Kenney testified during the probable cause hearing.

“…Sean stated he was angry when he ripped the car seat out of his vehicle thus throwing Katherine Phillips from the car seat,” Kenney stated. “Sean stated he felt like he killed her so he left her in a peaceful place.”

The clothes found in Phillips’ pocket the day of the disappearance is also being used as a key piece of evidence.

“Sean Phillips was apprehended at 4:23 p.m. at his residence at 230 W. Millerton Road, Scottville, Michigan. In his possession were found the clothes Katherine Phillips was last seen wearing. Her clothes were found in Sean Phillips’ pocket rolled up and inside out. A subsequent search of his vehicle found Katherine Phillips’ car seat, diaper bag, concealed in the trunk. A damp diaper was also found in the passenger’s compartment of the vehicle. At the time of Sean Phillips’ apprehension, Sean Phillips told officers he was not telling them the whole truth.

“Following his apprehension, Sean Phillips was given three conflicting statements as to the whereabouts of Katherine Phillips: Ariel Courtland has her, was told to (Mason County Sheriff’s) Sgt. (Jody) Hartley, (Ludington Police) Officer (Tony) Custer, and (Mason County Sheriff’s) Detective Sgt. (Tom) Posma on June 29 of 2011; he gave her to a guy for adoption, a note recovered from day-old clothing on July 11 of 2011 by (Mason County Sheriff’s) Deputy John Long.”

Kenney also testified that Phillips disputed paternity of the child while Ariel Courtland was pregnant with her; he stated this to “multiple parties including friends and family,” Kenney said. “During Ariel Courtland’s pregnancy and after the birth of Katherine Phillips, Sean Phillips urged Ariel Courtland to place the child up for adoption numerous times and provided Ariel Courtland money to use for an abortion.”

During a press conference last Friday, Attorney General Schuette said that evidence was collected that would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Phillips committed the murder.
Kenney, during his testimony, said that court precedent has been set for using circumstantial evidence; he cited People vs. Jimmie Allen Nelson.

“Sean Phillips was the last person seen with Katherine Phillips; he was in possession of her diaper bag, car seat, the clothes she was last seen wearing; his whereabouts are unaccountable between the time of 1:08 p.m. and 3:35 p.m. on June 29, 2011, while he had Katherine Phillips,” Kenney said.

“Katerine Phillips was 4-months-old at the time of her disappearance and she is not capable of caring for herself; Sean Phillips stated in a letter that he was with Katherine Phillips when she died and that Katherine Phillips was thrown from the car seat after he ripped the car seat out in an angry manner.

a”Sean Phillips had motive to kill Katherine Phillips relative to the pending paternity case; extensive analysis by scientists of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the Chicago Field Museum of the biological material and soil on the shoes of Sean Phillips has narrowed the probable location of the crime to a specific wetland area in Mason County, Michigan.”

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