Baby Kate murder charge appeal to be heard in court Friday.

December 4, 2014
Sean Phillips

Sean Phillips

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — The “Baby Kate” case will return to the Mason County Courthouse Friday afternoon when 51st Circuit Court Judge Richard Cooper will hear oral arguments about the Sept. 15 decision by 79th District Court Judge Peter Wadel to dismiss the open murder case against Sean Phillips.

In Oct. 2013, Phillips, 25, formerly of Victory Township, was charged with open murder for the 2011 death of his 4-month-old daughter, Katherine “Baby Kate” Phillips. In 2012 he was sentenced 10 to 15 years in prison for unlawful imprisonment of the infant.

A preliminary examination, to find the prosecution had probable cause to press charges, began in April, 2014. It was then recessed for evaluation of evidence and re-convened in July. On Sept. 15, Judge Wadel made the decision to dismiss the case.

Wadel ruled there wasn’t proof that Baby Kate had been murdered, and therefore declined to bind Phillips over for trial in circuit court. In a written opinion, Wadel wrote that the prosecution had “failed to show the crime of open murder has been committed because the proofs failed to show death by criminal act of defendant.”

Wadel noted testimony that Phillips had no history of violence and never made threats about the baby, her mother, Ariel Courtland or the couple’s older daughter, Haley.

Wadel also noted evidence that both Sean and Ariel had done computer research about the possibility of giving Baby Kate up for adoption. The judge also mentioned a note found in Phillips’ jail fatigues a few weeks after his arrest in which Phillips claimed he “gave her to a guy” to leave with adoptive parents.

He further referred to a letter Phillips mailed to Courtland from prison in August 2012, claiming the baby died accidentally when Phillips violently yanked her car seat from the back seat of her car, not realizing Katherine was in it.

The case is being appealed by the Michigan Attorney General’s office and Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola, who jointly prosecuted the case.

Arguments must show that Judge Wadel’s dismissal of the murder case was an “abuse of discretion.”

Katherine has not been seen since June 29, 2011. Court testimony showed that Sean and Ariel argued that day and Sean was the last person seen with the baby.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. Friday.