Jury Deliberating on Day 13th of Sean Phillips Murder Trial After Closing Arguments

After three days of jury selection, and nine days of open trial, Day 13 looked to be the last, at least before the jury deliberates.  Yesterday, in a surprise gesture, the defense waived any witnesses, before making a request to the Honorable Judge Peter Wadel to make a directed verdict.  After reviewing the law and hearing counsel arguments from both sides, the judge decided that first degree murder was off the table.  The jury would only consider the option of second degree murder, however, they would also have the option of choosing an involuntary manslaughter charge.

Just before the judge arrived in a well-attended courtroom, Detective Mike Kenney continued his bullying behavior (as he and Det. JB Wells did with a retired judge) by kicking a bunch of folks out of the first row in the audience on the prosecution's side.  He, Detective Wells, and a couple of other investigators sat themselves in the vacated chairs, even though they would not do anything during the proceedings to follow.  Funny, there were no reserved signs on those seats.

Before the jury sat, Defense Attorney Glancy noted Phillips had decided to invoke his right to remain silent in his defense, as anticipated.  When the jury sat, he then stated the defense rested. 

Judge Wadel read the custom jury instructions, some parts of note: 

Do not let sympathy or prejudice hamper your decision.

What you decide is final. 

In matters of law follow the judge's instruction, not either of the parties or their counsels.

You must presume innocence, only finding guilt if they have no reasonable doubts.

Do not assume anything just because the defendant did not testify.

Some things are not evidence: lawyer's statements, that a trial being held establishes guilt.

Do not consider stricken testimony, decide only on evidence presented.

You can consider the defendant's peacefulness, his demeanor as a factor

You can weigh in the testimony of Ariel and Reshaun their past dishonest behavior.

The testimony of police and officials are to be judged like everyone else.

Expert testimony also need to be judged as to whether they make sense.

He then explained the elements of second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, before giving the floor to Attorney General Prosecutor Donna Pendergast (below center).

As is common, her closing statement lasting a little over an hour mentioned the word murder often, directly calling Sean Phillips a murderer at least seven times.  She smartly used the TV screen to show a picture of Kate to begin with, she would show other major pieces of evidence like the prison letter, before leaving the screen on a remote branch of Millerton Road, where Sean is thought to have went. 

She spoke alternatively seeking sympathy for what happened with Kate and seeking anger/vengeance for what Sean did.  Nothing was alleged, everything at this point was absolute and damning for the defendant.  A brief look at her statements:

"No dad here, but a murderer."

"...found the coldness of hands that put her to death."

"a clinical assessment will get you to see there is no reasonable doubt."

"Evidence points in only one direction... there is no doubt that she died."

"Ariel Courtland is not on trial here."

"Ariel Courtland is a lot different in 2016 than she was in 2011."  [see 2015/2016 stories Ariel Courtland Assault Arrest Report Filled with Fibs and Ariel Courtland Found Guilty of Assault and Battery Last Week to consider whether it has been a change, or to the good.]

"...fictional adoption scenario..."

Misquoted Sean as telling officers:  "I know that I'm not telling you the truth."

Said prison letter was self-serving and narcissistic.

Said that method is not an element, the act of defendant is.  She then noted there was no forensic support of the 'confession' letter, and it shouldn't be believed other than he was angry, and injured/killed Baby Kate.  Offered her own suspicion that strangulation or suffocation occurred.

"What was it like to dump a four month old baby naked in the woods."

Noted Sean Phillips is real, they can see him.  Kate is not, just a picture on a screen of what she looked like five years ago.

"All evidence points to one direction, and one direction only."

Noted the lack of finding a body is not illustrative for the lack of trying.

The defense then gave its closing arguments, a brief overview of the statements given by David Glancy, who lingered quite a bit on doubts he had pushed at the appropriate times during the trial after thanking the jury for their diligence:

He warned them not to consider this case on emotions.  Abortion and adoption had been discussed throughout, primarily by Ariel.  The record shows she was more fixated on these options than Sean, who admitted to having growing feelings for Kate. 

He dismissed Dan Ruba's testimony (regarding hiding a body) as talk done by men after drinking and smoking marijuana, done two months before this happened, although he emphasized other Ruba testimony regarding his quietness and reluctance to argue.

Asked why Sean would do the DNA test, and why their arguments would start over Haley that day if there was any plan or motivation to kill Kate.

Recalled that Sean was cooperative, calling police, complying with searches and interrogations.

Wondered why Sean would still have clothes in his pocket and other stuff in the trunk if he was trying to conceal a murder.

Noted that the state has a reasonable doubt themselves over death because of their sending Kate's DNA samples out to Boston to see whether their unknown dead girl may have been an older Kate.

He tried to show that the Wendy's incident as described was possible and said prosecution hasn't shown that it could not have happened.  [But I did: The 'Impossible Murder' Confession of Sean Phillips]

Noted, Sean had the opportunity to get rid of incriminating evidence, never resisted.

After he finished 36 minutes later, Pendergast offered a 22 minute rebuttal that featured:

"Where is the baby?" she started.

The defense wants you to "try this hat.  If you don't like that, try this hat."

She took umbrage over being claimed to have misled the jury by the defense.  Reiterated that the puzzle pieces fit only one way. 

Noted that Sean had chatted with Abram Hernandez (fireworks vendor) for 20 minutes about the National Guard, [presumably] after the terrible events of that day. 

At 11:48 she finished and two jurors (#10 and #12, both male) were dismissed.  A final jury of seven women and five men began deliberating.

In my opinion, the prosecution did a good job of closing this case, even though I would still be leaning towards an acquittal, because their 'theories' are compelling but unsubstantiated with evidence.  The lack of both a body and any conclusive forensic activity showing a death occurred should be fatal for any kind of murder charge, lacking a real confession.  Sean's defense did a poor job in not concentrating on the prosecution's shortcomings.

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank you X.  Your work IS appreciated very much.

I hope justice is served for Kate.

Thanks, Brad.  I hope truth and justice is the end result; however, I see that hasn't been the goal for quite a while by our officials.

I think it was their goal... just seems light on evidence presented unfortunately.  I expected more and there may have been more, just unusable in court.  

The police searched all of Mason County resident's garbage excluding one garbage truck? Wow!! Personally I feel the detectives of the MCSO and the detective's from LPD are a complete failure at at performing their jobs. Just ran across an old news article from M-Live. In this article Ariel states while showing up at a search with her father that she would not help in the search for her missing daughter due to the fact Sean would have taken Baby Kate three counties away. All right that is a very telling sign.

ya cause Ariel is lieing all about the hole case cause she wants sean n baby kate out of the way so she can be with her new family n be more happy and most likely do it to someone else.

Here's some more food for thought.  If Ariel believed several days after all this went down that Sean would have taken Kate three counties away, then consider the timeline.  At 1:24 Ariel's phone (allegedly with Sean at Wendy's then, but never found) last contacted the Ludington tower.  Sean's car was then seen by his neighbor at about 2:30 PM (give or take) going further up Millerton Road than normal after he spent around twenty minutes with the fireworks salesman. 

The timeline is compressed quite a bit let's presume Sean went directly to the fireworks stand after turning off Ariel's phone at Wendy's that's 20 minutes, 20 minutes talking, 10 minutes to get back to his house adds up to 2:14 PM.  That gives him less than 20 minutes for extra travelling.  He could barely make it into Manistee County and come back in the allotted time.  How can Ariel believe Kate is several counties away? 

I just caught this in local media....

“The facts support that this was an accident,” said Defense Attorney David Glancy.

So Glancy is admitting that Sean had something to do with Kate's disappearance..?!  Is that the way it was presented in court?

I think that leaves it open to be 2nd degree or manslaughter and puts to rest the adoption theory.  ...Unless jury can not decide and it ends up hung....

I just realized I forgot to add that Pendergast noted Kim Phillips' in her closing argument, making her out to be someone trying to corrupt the testimony of her star witness with an assuring text (or was it an E-mail?) the night before Ariel took the stand.  She seen a sinister motive behind it, but I don't think many others did, being that she effectively just reminded her about how Sean was.  Didn't Pendergast herself repeatedly do the same for Ariel's benefit showing her the past testimony she gave?

I agree with Glancy, the facts support an accident; but it's still not clear to me by whom and when.

An "accident" does not equate to 2nd degree murder since there is no proof that Sean killed Kate or that she died. 2nd degree murder must also accompany "intent" to commit murder but precludes premeditation. Manslaughter could be considered if there was proof that someone had died which I believe has not been proven in this case. I don't know why an attorney would send a jury into deliberation with the thought that his client did indeed cause Kate's death.

Thanks for the information you posted in the Trump topic regarding this case. I decided to move my responses to the trial back here, so, I still don't understand if the letter attributed to Sean  was actually written by him. Did he or did he not write the letter and what was the jury told.  How much weight was the jury instructed to give to that letter by the Prosecution and or the Defense?  

The letter was tested and found to be Sean's, a fact which the defense ceded. 

Judge Wadel gave no particular weight to the letter or any other specific piece of evidence, allowing each juror to decide based on what they heard in court.  In the closing comments, the prosecution and defense both referred to the letter in coming to different conclusions as to what happened.  Being that it was the sole piece of evidence that would help show the prosecution's charge, it was given more emphasis by them. 

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