No verdict Wednesday in Baby Kate murder trial

Sean Phillips accused of murdering 'Baby Kate' in 2011

Sean Phillips and Katherine Phillips
Sean Phillips (left) appears in court Oct. 4, 2016 during his trial in the murder of his 4-month-old daughter, Katherine Phillips (right).

LUDINGTON, Mich. (WOOD) — Jurors deliberated for a few hours Wednesday in the murder trial of Sean Phillips, but broke for the night without reaching a verdict.

Four-month-old Katherine, who became known as Baby Kate after she disappeared in 2011, was last seen alive with Phillips, her father, in Ludington.

Deliberation began at 2:30 pm. and ended shortly before 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. It will resume Thursday morning.

During closing arguments, Assistant Attorney General Donna Pendergast said Phillips was coldly calculating for stripping Baby Kate of her clothes, leaving her in the elements. She said there is no doubt that Baby Kate is dead.

“Don’t reward him for being clever enough to leave the baby in a place she can never be found,” Pendergast said.

She said the letter allegedly written by Phillips letter lays out a horrific set of circumstances leading to Kate’s death. According to the letter, Phillips pulled Kate’s car seat from his car and that she was thrown from it.

“His own words in the letter alone give you second-degree murder,” Pendergast said.

That five-page letter allegedly written by Phillips while in jail, is the crux of the prosecution’s case, which is largely based on circumstantial evidence since Kate’s body has never been found.

During her hour-long closing argument, Pendergast also summarized testimony from Phillips’ mother, Kim Phillips who admitted to asking Kate’s mother, Ariel Courtland, to portray her son as a good father.

“How could there ever be enough justice for the unceremonious discarding of a baby thrown away like trash?” Pendergast said at the end of her address to the jury.

At the start of his closing argument, defense attorney David Glancy went straight to building the case for a lesser conviction of involuntary manslaughter.

“At best if you believe there was some act that Sean did that raises his culpability, it’s at most to an involuntary manslaughter, a gross negligence,” Glancy said.

Glancy said no individual piece of evidence proved Phillips murdered Baby Kate. He focused on raising doubt about the case against Phillips, concentrating on statements and alleged actions of Courtland illustrating Phillips was not alone in his desire to get rid of Kate.

“They haven’t proven a second-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt. They haven’t proven a death beyond a reasonable doubt. And they haven’t proven that Sean knowingly created a situation where death or great bodily harm, that he knew that was going to happen,” said Glancy.

In court Tuesday, Judge Peter Wadel acquitted Phillips of first-degree murder. As a result, the jury will have three options: second-degree murder, which has a maximum sentence of life in prison with parole as an option; manslaughter, which carries a 15-year penalty; or not guilty.

“The mere fact that a lot of young people have an unwanted pregnancy, an unplanned pregnancy and they consider things like abortion or adoption do show, do not rise to the level of planning for or intending to kill the baby,” Wadel said.

In eight days of testimony, also jurors heard from Courtlandofficers who spoke with Phillips on the day Kate disappeared; Phillips’ neighbors; experts in DNA, cellphones and computers; and a man who was in prison with Phillips and said he admitted to getting rid of Kate.

Wadel ordered an hour of deliberations late Wednesday morning before ordering the jurors lunch.

Regardless of what the jury decides in this trial, Phillips will remain behind bars: He was convicted of unlawful imprisonment in Kate’s case in 2012 and sentenced to between 10 and 15 years prison.