Judge Wadel can hear Baby Kate murder case

A file photo of Mason County Circuit Court Judge Peter Wadel.

LUDINGTON, Mich. (WOOD) — Mason County Judge Peter Wadel can hear the trial of Sean Phillips for the murder of his infant daughter Katherine.

Monday, Judge Scott Hill-Kennedy of Mecosta County denied a motion filed by the state Attorney General’s Office and the Mason County Prosecutor’s Office seeking Wadel’s disqualification.

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

Phillips, 25, is accused of murdering his 4-month-old daughter Katherine — better known as Baby Kate — in the summer of 2011. Her body has never been found.

The AG and county prosecutor didn’t want Wadel to hear the trial because he previously threw out the murder charge while serving in the district court. It was reinstated by previous Mason County Circuit Court Chief Judge Richard Cooper.

After Cooper retired, Wadel took his place and assigned himself to Phillips’ trial. Prosecutors filed a motion in March saying Wadel shouldn’t and may not be allowed to preside over the murder trial because he was involved at the district court level and already ruled on many of the issues that may come up.

Sean Phillips' mug shot from the Michigan Department of Corrections. (June 8, 2012)
(Sean Phillips’ June 2012 mug shot from the Michigan Department of Corrections.)

Wadel disagreed and refused to recuse himself from the case. Prosecutors appealed and the Mecosta County judge was appointed to heart the dispute. After a June 8 hearing, he ruled in Wadel’s favor.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Interactive timeline of the Baby Kate case

Phillips is already serving a prison sentence after being convicted of unlawful imprisonment in the disappearance of his daughter.

He is challenging the murder charge. That case is now before the Michigan Court of Appeals.

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