LUDINGTON, Mich. (WWJ/AP) – A judge has acquitted a northern Michigan man of first-degree murder in connection with the disappearance of his 4-month-old daughter.
Mason County Judge Peter Wadel issued a directed verdict Tuesday on the charge against 26-year-old Sean Phillips and said he will allow the jury to consider a second-degree murder charge that doesn’t include premeditation and allows for parole.
Wadel said there’s not enough evidence to support a first-degree murder charge in the disappearance of e Phillips’ 4-month-old daughter, Katherine Phillips, known as “Baby Kate.”
She disappeared in 2011 in the Ludington area, about 80 miles northwest of Grand Rapids. Her body has never been found, but Phillips’ was arrested when her wadded-up clothing was discovered by police in his cargo shorts pocket.
Phillips has been imprisoned since 2012, serving a 10 to 15 year sentence after being convicted of unlawful imprisonment for failing to return Katherine to her mother, Ariel Courtland.
Prosecutors have said Phillips took the baby from Courtland because he feared a court-ordered paternity test would show he was the father. Courtland said Phillips wanted to put Katherine up for adoption, but she refused.
Phillips at one point had insisted that Katherine was still alive; but later in a handwritten letter to Courtland said the baby was accidentally killed and left in a “peaceful place.”
The prosecution has concluded its case in Phillips’ trial.
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