LUDINGTON, Mich. (WOOD) - An open murder charge has been levied against a man from Ludington whose baby hasn't been seen in more than two years.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola made the announcement during a news conference Friday. The Attorney General's Office will work with the Spaniola to prosecute the case.
Katherine Phillips disappeared June 29, 2011 and is presumed dead. She became known as "Baby Kate" in the nationally covered investigation.
Now her father, Sean Phillips, faces one count of open murder, among other charges. He is currently serving a 10-year minimum prison sentence after he was convicted in August 2012 of unlawful imprisonment connected to her disappearance. He is appealing the sentence.
After he was sentenced, investigators declared Phillips a suspect in Baby Kate's murder.
"Unfortunately, Baby Kate would not be found because she was murdered by Sean Phillips," Schuette said Friday.
The AG said an ongoing investigation has brought new evidence to light. While confirming that Baby Kate has not been found, he evaded answering questions about the nature of that evidence.
"All this evidence will come out at trial and it will be full and complete. It was an exhaustive investigation, thorough and complete, which is the hallmark of our judicial system," Schuette said.
Spaniola said his office decided to ask the state Attorney General to step in.
"We have a number of high-profile cases in this county lately, including the recent murder of Trooper Paul Butterfield, as well as a number of other serious cases, which have forced me to look outside my office for assistance," he said.
Baby Kate disappeared after police said Phillips suddenly drove off with the infant in the midst of a disagreement with Ariel Courtland, Kate's mother.
Last year, 24 Hour News 8 obtained a letter that prosecutors suspect was written by Phillips to Courtland. In the letter, he claimed he accidentally killed Baby Kate and left her body in what he only called a "peaceful place."
Since then, authorities have been working to determine that place.
In late June, police and a team of botanists embarked on a search to try and determine where Phillips might have gone the day Baby Kate disappeared. They used plant matter found on the shoes he reportedly wore that day to guide their search. Police never announced findings from that search.
During the news conference Friday, Schuette said he was convinced that the open murder charge was warranted and the jury will come back with a conviction.
"(Baby Kate) was the innocent victim of a terrible crime, at the hands of her father no less," Schuette said. "It’s a tragic crime, and it makes me sick.”
The maximum penalty for an open murder conviction in Michigan is life in prison.
Phillips is expected to be arraigned in the near future.
"Victims of crime should never, never be forgotten and today we are not forgetting Baby Kate," Schuette said.
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