Appeals court won’t hear Phillips trial judge dispute

Baby Kate and Sean Phillips.

LUDINGTON, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Court of Appeals won’t hear prosecutors’ appeal, meaning Mason County Judge Peter Wadel can hear the trial of Sean Phillips for the murder of his baby daughter Katherine.

Phillips is already serving prison time after being convicted of unlawful imprisonment in 2011 disappearance of the 4-month-old, better known as Baby Kate.

After that conviction, the Mason County prosecutor and Michigan Attorney General’s Office filed murder charges against Phillips, based in large part on a letter he sent baby Kate’s mother from prison in which he describes throwing Kate’s car seat while she was still in it and then leaving her body someone in the country. Her body has never been found.

>>Inside Phillips’ letter

Judge Wadel, then a district court judge, dismissed the murder case, saying there was not enough evidence to sustain the charge. Circuit Court Judge Richard Cooper — who presided over Phillips’ previous trial — overturned that decision and bound the case over to circuit court.

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

But after Cooper retired, Wadel became the circuit court chief judge and had to decide which judge would preside over the coming trial. He assigned it to himself.

Prosecutors filed a motion in March saying Wadel shouldn’t 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. Wadel disagreed and refused to recuse himself from the case.

A visiting judge denied prosecutors’ request to disqualify Wadel from the case. On Dec. 30, 2015, the Michigan Court of appeals let that ruling stand, denying a request to hear the case.

But it’s still uncertain whether the trial will happen. Phillips has appealed the decision that reinstated the murder charge. In October, the Court of Appeals let the ruling stand, but Phillips is currently asking to the Michigan Supreme Court to overturn the decision and dismiss the murder count. It is not yet known when the Supreme Court will decide if it will hear the case.

>>Inside Interactive timeline of the Baby Kate case

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