Felon during Baby Kate trial: ‘God told me to do the right thing’

Sean Phillips standing trial for murder of his 4-month-old daughter in 2011

Rushaun Burton testifies in the Sean Phillips murder trial. (Oct. 7, 2016)
Rushaun Burton testifies in the Sean Phillips murder trial. (Oct. 7, 2016)

LUDINGTON, Mich. (WOOD) — Rushaun Burton is a 36-year-old who has spent a good chunk of his adult life in prison.

In 1997, he was sent to prison for 10 to 25 years on a charge of conspiracy to commit armed robbery in the Thumb area of Michigan. In 2012, he was back in prison after he was convicted of delivery of marijuana with intent to deliver.

Rushaun Burton
An April 2015 mug shot of Rushaun Burton from the Michigan Department of Corrections.

It was in the summer of 2012 at the state prison in Carson City that Burton says he and Sean Phillips met after Phillips was convicted of the unlawful imprisonment of his 4-month-old daughter, Katherine.

They had cells nearby and became friends, spending time together at chow, in the law library and in the yard. The two were talking about celebrity divorces when Burton says Phillips offered up this bit of personal information.

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

Phillips, as he had done so many times before, denied that the little girl — dubbed Baby Kate after she disappeared from Ludington in 2011 — was his child but said he was going to have to support her regardless.

“Money was involved and he felt like he was going to have to pay money out,” Burton said.

But Phillips allegedly told Burton that he had a solution.

“What he said was he picked the baby up and he got rid of the baby,” Burton said.

Phillips allegedly elaborated that the baby was well hidden.

“He said they would never… find the body,” Burton testified in court Friday.

His testimony came at the end of the second week of Phillips’ trial, which is slated to last three weeks. It is a key part of the case brought by Assistant Attorney General Donna Pendergast as she works to convince a jury that Phillips killed Baby Kate and left her body exposed to the elements.

Pendergast said Burton faces considerable peril as someone who testified about a fellow inmate.

“He got the heck beat out of him because he testified,” she said.

Defense attorney David Glancy said that Burton had a good reason to say what the prosecution wants regardless of whether it is true.

“He was denied parole, had major misconduct, denied parole, had more major misconducts, was then sent a letter, testified and then was granted parole,” Glancy said.

Sean Phillips
Sean Phillips in court on Oct. 4, 2016.

But Burton said he has other reasons.

“I was thinking about the situation, and it weighed on me, like I said, so I prayed about it so I wrote the Attorney General’s Office and let them know what happened,” Burton said.

“I have two daughters,” he continued. “God told me to do the right thing.”

Burton said after the brief conversation, he and Phillips never talked about Baby Kate again. He previously testified during Phillips’ preliminary hearing in April 2014.

The defense didn’t get a shot at challenging Burton’s testimony Friday because the lawyers were arguing about which of Burton’s prior bad acts can be revealed to the jury.

Since Kate’s remains have not been found, much of the case against Phillips, 26, is based on circumstantial evidence, including a letter he allegedly wrote in prison in which he confessed that he pulled Kate’s car seat from his car and that she was thrown from it. Prosecutors drew attention to that letter in court Thursday.

Since testimony began last week, jurors have heard from Kate’s mother, Ariel Courtland; Phillips’ mother, Kim Phillips; officers who spoke with Phillips on the day Kate disappeared; Phillips’ neighbors; and experts in DNA, cellphones and computers.