Jury deliberates in Baby Kate trial.

October 12, 2016

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Jury deliberates in Baby Kate trial.

By Allison Scarbrough. Editor.

LUDINGTON — The 12-member jury in Sean Phillips’ trial must unanimously decide if he is guilty of second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter in the 2011 disappearance of his 4-month-old daughter, Katherine Phillips, “Baby Kate.”

The jury heard closing arguments by the prosecution and defense Wednesday morning, Oct. 12, in 51st Circuit Court prior to deliberating on a verdict. Wednesday marked the 13th day of the trial.

Judge Peter Wadel instructed the jurors that they can consider a second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter conviction. A second-degree murder conviction requires that the defendant “intended to kill or do great bodily harm,” Wadel said. Manslaughter requires the element that the defendant acted “grossly negligent,” which is more than “carelessness,” he said. Neither conviction requires that the body is recovered. Baby Kate’s body has never been found. According to Mason County Sheriff Detective Sgt. Tom Posma’s testimony, Baby Kate’s body was likely eaten by coyotes after being discarded in the woods.

Wadel on Tuesday acquitted Phillips of first-degree murder charges, which requires the element of premeditation. Phillips, 26, avoids life imprisonment with the acquittal.

Phillips treated Baby Kate as a “throw-away baby,” said Prosecutor Donna Pendergast of the Michigan Attorney General’s Office. “There is no footprint too small to leave an imprint on the face of the earth. Katherine Phillips’ life was no exception,” Pendergast said. The prosecutor described Phillips as a cold-blooded murderer who considered his baby a “burden” or “impediment.” Pendergast said, “Anybody who inflicts violence on a 4-month-old baby, owns death.”

“The facts support that this was an accident,” said Defense Attorney David Glancy. He described his client as a “panicked, scared” 21-year-old. Glancy picked apart the prosecution’s theories, aiming to put “reasonable doubt” in the jurors’ minds that there was an intent to kill or even a death. “They don’t have any physical evidence to prove this claim,” he said. “He was a good dad to both Haley (he and Baby Kate’s mother Ariel Courtland’s older daughter) and Kate.” Phillips’ behavior following Baby Kate’s disappearance were “the acts of a confused person after a horrible accident,” Glancy said. “At most, it was involuntary manslaughter,” said Glancy, who asked the jury for a not guilty verdict.

Phillips did not testify during the trial. He has been incarcerated since the day Kate went missing, June 29, 2011. He has been in prison since June 5, 2012, serving a 10-15 year term for the unlawful imprisonment (kidnapping) of Baby Kate. His earliest release date is June 29, 2021.

“Remember, you have taken an oath,” Wadel told the jurors. “What you decide about any fact in this case is final.” Wadel reminded the jury that the prosecutor must prove the elements of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The judge instructed the jury to use “careful and considerate examination. It is your job to decide what the facts of the case are.”

The jury was sent to the jury room to deliberate at noon Wednesday.