Jury finds Phillips guilty.

October 14, 2016

baby_kate_phillips_1Jury finds Phillips guilty.


By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — A 12-person jury has found Sean Michael Phillips guilty of second degree murder in the case involving the 2011 disappearance of his 4-month-old daughter, Katherine Shelbie-Elizabeth Phillips, also known as Baby Kate. Second degree murder is punishable by up to life in prison with the possibility of parole. The verdict was announced just after 7 p.m. Friday night. 

The jury began its deliberations Wednesday afternoon. Initially Phillips was being tried in Mason County’s 51st Circuit Court for first degree murder, which means the crime was premeditated. However, earlier in the week, Judge Peter Wadel sustained a motion by the defense to acquit Phillips on that charge and consider second degree murder or manslaughter.

The verdict concludes a trial that began 15 days ago.

Phillips will be sentenced at a later date.

Phillips, 26, is currently serving a 10-year-minimum prison sentence for the unlawful imprisonment (kidnapping) of Baby Kate and the new sentence would run concurrent.

Katherine Phillips has not been seen since June 29, 2011, after she was last seen by her mother, Ariel Courtland, in the back of Phillips’s car. Phillips left Courtland’s Tinkham Avenue apartment in Ludington after the two had been arguing, according to testimony of Courtland and witnesses. For the next several hours his whereabouts and activities have never been confirmed. But, when law enforcement officers from Ludington Police Department and Mason County Sheriff’s Office found Phillips at his parents’ home on West Millerton Road in Victory Township, the baby was nowhere to be found; however, Phillips had the baby’s clothes in his pocket and had placed the carseat and diaper bag in the trunk of his car.

The lead prosecutor in the case has been Michigan Assistant Attorney General Donna Pendergast, assisted by Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Spaniola.

“Today’s conviction is a measure of justice for a child who will never grow up and a family that has been ripped apart by her murder,” said Attorney General Bill Schuette in a written statement.

Schuette and Spaniola filed one murder charge against Sean Phillips in Ludington’s 79th District Court on October 4, 2013. The charge alleged that Sean Phillips murdered his daughter, Katherine ‘Kate’ Phillips on June 29, 2011.  By definition, an open murder charge allows jurors to determine the level of the defendant’s culpability.

“I’d like to thank Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola, Chief Mark Barnett, Sheriff Kim Cole, the Michigan State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for providing their assistance in this trial and prior investigation,” said Schuette.

Since August 2012, Attorney General Schuette’s Appellate Division has represented Mason County in opposing Sean Phillips’ appeal of his April 2012 conviction for the unlawful imprisonment of his daughter, Katherine Phillips.  Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola secured the conviction, resulting in a 10-15 year prison sentence for Phillips.  Phillips later appealed.

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