Supreme Court will not consider ‘Baby Kate’ murderer’s appeal.

November 2, 2018

Sean Phillips

Supreme Court will not consider ‘Baby Kate’ murderer’s appeal.


By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

LANSING — Sean Michael Phillips has lost his attempts to appeal his conviction for the murder of his infant daughter. On Tuesday, Oct. 30, the Michigan Supreme Court issued a one-page order stating it will not consider Phillips’ request to appeal a decision by a three judge Court of Appeals panel. In April of this year, the panel issued its opinion affirming the second degree murder conviction of Sean Michael Phillips for the June 29, 2011 murder of his 4-month-old daughter Katherine Shelbie-Elizabeth Phillips, also known as “Baby Kate.”

Katherine Phillips has not been found since June 29, 2011, after she was last seen by her mother, Ariel Courtland, in the back of Phillips’s car. Phillips left Birch Lake Apartments on East Tinkham Avenue apartment after the he and Courtland had been arguing, according to testimony of Courtland and witnesses.

Numerous law enforcement and community searches were held throughout the county to find “Baby Kate” with no success. 

On Dec. 9, 2016, Phillips was sentenced in 51st Circuit Court to serve 19 to 45 years in prison for the murder. The sentence runs concurrent with the sentence he had been serving for kidnapping of Baby Kate.

Phillips, 28, of Victory Township is currently housed at the Michigan Department of Corrections’ Carson City Correctional Facility. His earliest release would be Oct. 2, 2032, according to the MDOC website. He is also serving a 10-year-minimum prison sentence for the unlawful imprisonment (kidnapping) of Baby Kate. 

Phillips sought reversal of his conviction on five grounds:

1. That his interview with Mason County Sheriff Det. Sgt. Tom Posma, on the night of the murder, was irrelevant and substantially more prejudicial than probative, and otherwise not properly admissible. The court held that the recording of the interview was properly relevant as it related to Phillips’ motive to kill the victim and was otherwise properly admissible.

2. Phillips argued that the prosecution’s closing argument constituted an improper appeal to juror sympathy. In holding that this claim was without merit the court stated “the prosecution has wide latitude in arguing the facts and reasonable inferences, and need to confine argument to the blandest possible terms.” The court then analyzed several portions of the prosecution’s closing argument, in which the basic facts were laid out, that by his own admission the victim was left alone and vulnerable in the woods, and the facts that her clothing was found balled up in the pocket of his shorts — therefore she would have been naked — as well as Phillips’ admission to a fellow prisoner that he had gotten “rid of the victim, and that he would never be charged with murder because no one would ever find the victim.”

3. Phillips argued that the five page letter which he wrote from prison in which he stated that he left Kate “in a peaceful place” was not admissible. That argument had previously been considered by the Court of Appeals in a prior appeal in the case and the panel refused to reconsider that decision admitting the letter.

4. Phillips unsuccessfully argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of second degree murder, the court finding that all the elements of that offense were proven.

5. An argument seeking additional credit for time spent in jail awaiting trial was rejected.

This story is copyrighted © 2018, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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