Prosecutors: Wadel shouldn’t hear Phillips trial

Sean Phillips. (April 4, 2014)

LUDINGTON, Mich. (WOOD) — Prosecutors don’t want a Mason County judge who already dismissed charges once to preside over the murder trial of Sean Phillips.

Phillips is already serving a 10- to 15-year prison sentence for unlawful imprisonment in the July 2011 disappearance of his 4-month-old daughter Katherine Phillips, more commonly known as Baby Kate. Last year, the state Attorney General’s Office and Mason County Prosecutor’s Office charged Phillips with murdering Kate.

Kate Phillips. (Undated courtesy photo)
(An undated courtesy photo of Kate Phillips.)

>>Inside Interactive timeline of the Baby Kate case

Then, after a preliminary hearing, Mason County District Court Judge Peter Wadel dismissed the murder charge, saying the prosecution had not presented enough evidence that Phillips had committed the crime.

The AG and prosecutor appealed to Mason County Circuit Court Judge Richard Cooper, who presided over Phillips’ unlawful imprisonment trial. Cooper overturned the Wadel’s decision and reinstated the murder charge.

But Cooper retired at the end of 2014. Despite a new judge having since been elected, the AG’s Office says that Wadel, who is now acting as the circuit court’s chief judge, assigned the case to himself and is scheduled preside over Phillips’ murder trial.

In a motion filed with the court Wednesday, the AG’s Office and Mason County prosecutor argue Judge Wadel shouldn’t, and might not be allowed to, preside over a circuit court case he was involved in at the district court level.

In the motion, they say it would be improper for Wadel to be the judge because he has already ruled on many of the issues that will come up at trial.

They are asking that another judge be appointed.

>>PDF: The motion to disqualify Wadel

As for the case itself, Phillips’s attorney has filed an appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals, challenging the ruling that reinstated the murder charges.

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