LUDINGTON, Mich. (WOOD) - The father of missing baby Katherine Phillips is appealing the conviction and sentence that sent him to prison for at least 10 years.
In a brief filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals, through his attorney Valerie Newman, Phillips claims that the trial court in Ludington erred during the judge's instructions to the jury, unfairly departed from sentencing guidelines, and that prosecutors failed to prove part of their case against him.
Phillips was convicted of unlawful imprisonment following 10 days of testimony during the trial at the Mason County Courthouse.
After the sentencing in June 2012, police declared Sean Phillips a suspect in the murder of his infant daughter who became known as Baby Kate. She disappeared in June 2011. The infant or her remains have not been found and murder charges have not yet been levied against Phillips.
In a 28-page filing, Newman highlights portions of the unlawful imprisonment statute that state the victim of said crime must by "restrained" and "secretly confined."
She cites a portion of a law that says "'Restrain' means to forcibly restrict a persons movements..."
"There is no record evidence to support that Kate's movements were forcibly restricted," Newman wrote in the filing. "The record is completely devoid of any evidence of force."
"The conviction for unlawful imprisonment was not supported by the evidence produced at trial and must be vacated."
Newman also took issue with what the judge said to the jury in response to a question about the elements of the unlawful imprisonment charge.
"During jury deliberations the jury asked 'is secret confinement from the People of the State of Michigan or from Ariel Courtland or anyone else?'...Over Defense Counsel's objection the court instructed the jury that the answer is either Ariel or the State."
"It was inaccurate because the statute does not define from whom the person must be secretly confined."
The length of Phillips' sentence was also disputed.
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Richard Cooper decided to go above the guidelines and called the case "exceptional" because of the victim's young age, vulnerability, and the fact that Baby Kate was still missing.
Newman claims the "sentencing guidelines for Mr. Phillips had been scored out at a range of 19-38 months" and that the factors the judge said made the case "exceptional" had already been considered to come up with that score.
" If this Court lets a trial judge depart from the guidelines by simply stating on the record the magic litany of words that he or she finds the guidelines scoring inadequate without undergoing the analysis dictated by Young (People v Young is a Michigan Court of Appeals Case from 2007), then the Legislature’s intent in enacting the guidelines is defeated and the legislative scheme will only serve to mask the imposition of subjective, arbitrary, and disparate sentences that it was meant to prevent."
Newman continued to say that even if the factors the judge mentioned are considered, that he still went too far over the guidelines in sentencing Phillips.
"...this case does not support a minimum term that is more than double the high end of the applicable guidelines range," Newman wrote. "Resentencing is required."
Late last year, the case was thrust into the limelight again after Katherine's mother, Ariel Courtland, took out a marriage license and planned to marry Phillips at an Ionia prison. Those plans were canceled after word about the marriage license went public.
Shortly thereafter, 24 Hour News 8 obtained a letter that investigators believe was written by Sean Phillips to Ariel Courtland. The letter stated Phillips accidentally killed the infant in frustration and that he left her somewhere. It does not indicate where she was left.
Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola has not yet filed a response to the appeal and could not immediately be reached for comment.
A message was left for Courtland seeking comment Friday morning.
Investigators said the case remains under investigation.