Former US Attorney to help defend Baby Kate’s dad

Sean Phillips in a Mason County courtroom (April 24, 2012)
Sean Phillips in a Mason County courtroom (April 24, 2012)

LUDINGTON, Mich. (WOOD) — Months after the Michigan attorney general announced his office will prosecute the father of missing baby Kate Phillips for murder, the defense is getting some help as a well-known attorney joins its team.

Sean Phillips stands charged with murdering Kate, his 5-month-old daughter, and is currently serving prison time on an unlawful imprisonment conviction for taking her from her mother. Kate, who went missing in the summer of 2011, has not been found.

Kate Phillips. (Undated courtesy photo)
(Kate Phillips. Undated courtesy photo)

John Smietanka, a former U.S. attorney for the Western Michigan District, will sit at the defense table for Phillips at taxpayers’ expense. He will act as an adviser to David Glancy, the attorney appointed to represent Phillips at trial.

Smietanka says he will work alongside Gene Debbaudt, a former head of West Michigan’s FBI office.

In October 2013, Attorney General Bill Schuette announced his office was charging Phillips with murder and would handle prosection of the case.

Glancy then requested assistance in defending the case from the court “because of the number of people and agencies involved on the other side,” he said.

The court granted the request and contacted Smietanka to aid in the case.

“They’re trying to make sure that in a serious case like this, that the man has fair representation,” Smietanka told 24 Hour News 8.

John Smietanka. (Undated courtesy photo)
(John Smietanka. Undated courtesy photo)

Smietanka has gone head-to-head with the Michigan AG’s office before — and won.

In January 2013, he defended Mark Anthony Coulier, a man accused of murdering his ex-wife. Coulier walked on the charge after the judge granted a motion for a directed not guilty verdict in the case following the prosecution’s presentation of its case.

Smietanka is not saying that will happen in this case or even saying he anticipates a strong defense for Phillips.

“We will do the best to get him a fair trial,” Smietanka said. “I do it because I think that it is important that everybody gets fair representation.”

Smietanka would not divulge how much the county is paying him to work on the case, but says he’s acting as an adviser as opposed to serving as co-council because he “thought it was the most economical and appropriate way to handle it.”

“I am paid according to the court schedule. … It’s an hourly rate based upon the actual hours I put in on the case,” Smietanka said.

Phillips is scheduled back in court this spring for a preliminary exam to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to send him to trial for murder.

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