December Ninth, 2016-- a day that will be remembered in Mason County as the day that Sean Phillips was sentenced by Judge Peter Wadel to a sentence of 19-45 years for his part in the disappearance of Baby Kate, which resulted in a jury convicting him of second-degree murder.
The 19-45 year clock will begin at the point of October 4, 2013, when Phillips was already serving a 10-15 year sentence for the 'unlawful imprisonment' arising from the same set of circumstances that got him convicted of murder (minus a prison 'confession' letter). The normally stoic and silent Sean Phillips was granted the opportunity to speak before the judge selected his sentence.
For those who wanted some closure as to what happened with Baby Kate, and whether she was actually dead or 'black-market' adopted out, as some evidence appears to point, Phillips' answer to the judge's question of whether there was something he wanted to add sums it up, and marked the only words he would utter in court this day:
"Not at this time, your honor."
After 5 1/2 years, and a small forest of evidence, transcripts and interviews, at this time we are no closer to really knowing what happened on June 29, 2011 than we were shortly thereafter. In fact, the evidence at this time makes what happened that day less clear than then. That includes not only what happened to Baby Kate, which is still uncertain, and what happened in Sean Phillips' mind.
A lot of familiar faces appeared at the court for sentencing. The media was well-represented with seven outlets with cameras in the media and jury box, and at least three without cameras out in the audience. There were up to five uniformed LPD officers, three county deputies, all three detectives involved (Kenney, Posma, and Wells), and the respective chief and sheriff. At least three jurors of the murder trial attended, along with those intimately connected with Phillips: his mother and dad, Ariel (Courtland) Brewer, Ariel's mom.
At 10:35, the judge entered the room, but the defense was not present and seemed to be conferring in the opposite courtroom among themselves. When it was apparent that the defense was not ready he left again. In the meantime, the grandmothers of Baby Kate, April Lange and Kim Phillips embraced in support of one another before taking their seat and shortly thereafter, about a minute after Ariel entered the courtroom, Phillips with his attorney, David Glancy entered, followed by the re-entrance of Judge Wadel.
The pre-sentencing report was approved by the prosecution, but contended on four different grounds by the defense. Two of these were upheld: 1) that Phillips' time served in the reserves between 2008-2011 be added to his employment history, and more importantly 2) that the scoring for sentencing would be reduced by 15 points because the crime did not have any egregious psychological effect on the victim (Ariel, in this case).
This reduction actually influenced the sentencing report to go from C-3 to C-2 (Michigan Sentencing Guidelines), but each party was able to address the court as to the appropriate sentence. Attorney General lawyer Donna Pendergast made the case that the crime warranted 40-75 years passionately pleading that the nature of the crime sustained such a sentence. Glancy argued briefly for the revised C-2 guideline of 15-25 years.
As for victim's impact statements, Ariel waived the right to make one at court, though she gave the court a letter (which we will hopefully reveal in the course of events). Two other letters were also reviewed by the court, but undisclosed as to their authors.
The judge gave a moving speech before pronouncing his sentence, labelling the series of events and the aftermath as a tragedy for all involved, and Sean Phillips as someone who was not evil, but was guilty of making several poor choices that got him to this point. He illustrated briefly what led him to believing that premeditation was never involved, the fact that he had taken the paternity test just a little over an hour before.
Sean's poise was not shared by his mother and Baby Kate's mother, who were noticeably in grief in their seats just ahead of mine (they were sitting three seats apart, with Larry Phillips and a reporter in between).