Phillips acquitted of 1st-degree murder, jury to consider 2nd-degree.

October 11, 2016

Sean Phillips

Sean Phillips

Phillips acquitted of 1st-degree murder, jury to consider 2nd-degree.

#MasonCountyNews   #BabyKate

By Allison Scarbrough and Rob Alway.

LUDINGTON – Judge Peter Wadel acquitted Sean Phillips of first-degree murder charges in the Baby Kate case Tuesday, Oct. 11, in 51st Circuit Court.

Wadel, however, will allow the jury to consider second-degree murder charges against Phillips. Second-degree murder does not include premeditation murder and allows the defendant to be up for parole.

Judge Peter Wadel

Judge Peter Wadel

Wadel issued a directed verdict on the first-degree murder charges midday Tuesday. He said he will allow the jury to deliberate about second-degree murder charges. Wadel and the attorneys in the case will put specific information into the jury instructions about considering second-degree murder.

In his comments, Wadel said there is not “at all” enough evidence to support first-degree murder charges. Wadel, who is the 79th District Court judge, had initially ruled, following a probable cause hearing, that there was not enough evidence to try Phillips for first degree murder. That ruling was appealed by the prosecution — which includes the Mason County Prosecutor’s Office and the Michigan Attorney General — and overruled by now-retired 51st Circuit Court Judge Richard Cooper. The defense appealed that decision, which was upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Judge Wadel, who is the chief judge in Mason County, is the presiding judge in the case because 51st Circuit Court Judge Susan Sniegowski and Mason County Probate Court Judge Jeff Nellis have both been involved with previous family court cases between Phillips and Ariel Courtland, Baby Kate’s mother, and the mother of their other child.

Phillips, who is from Victory Township, is accused of killing his 4-month-old daughter, Katherine Phillips, known as “Baby Kate.” She disappeared in 2011 and her body has never been found.

Defense attorneys asked for a directed verdict, telling the judge the case might involve manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, or an accident, but not pre-meditated murder.

The prosecution rested its case Tuesday morning after Mason County Sheriff Detective Sgt. Tom Posma, the lead detective in the case, back to the stand. Posma told jurors the day Kate went missing all of the trash in Mason County was segregated and searched before it went to the landfill.

He also talked about the numerous searches for Baby Kate, which were unsuccessful.

The jury was re-seated for the afternoon session, but Wadel sent them home for the day because no further evidence was expected to be presented. The trial resumes Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 9 a.m., and closing arguments from the defense and prosecution are expected.

WZZM contributed to this story. 


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