LUDINGTON, Mich. (WOOD) - A letter apparently written by the father of presumed dead Baby Kate tells how the little girl died.
Katherine Phillips -- known as Baby Kate to many -- was 4 months old when she went missing on July 29, 2011. Her father, Sean Phillips, was convicted of unlawful imprisonment in connection to her disappearance in April 2012. In June, he was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison. The same day Phillips was sentenced, police announced they would begin to treat the case as a homicide investigation.
On Sept. 11, Target 8 obtained a letter from a source that was apparently written by Phillips. It explains how he believes Baby Kate died, what he did with her body -- and gives a possible explanation to why he and Baby Kate's mother Ariel Courtland are getting married.
Courtland filed for a marriage license on Sept. 10.
In the letter, for the first time, is an admission from Phillips that Baby Kate is dead.
On jail-issued lined paper and in an envelope postmarked July 16 is a letter believed to be scrawled by the man at the middle of the search for Baby Kate.
The letter is unsigned, but does have Sean Phillips' name and prison ID number on the front of the envelope.
The print is small and fills the paper from edge to edge. It has no greeting to apparent intended recipient Ariel Courtland.
"If this is what you want, OK," starts the letter.
Then it gives a five-page explanation of what happened the day Baby Kate went missing.
The letter says it was a series of mistakes. First, Phillips drove off with the baby. But he says he had no idea Courtland had left Kate in her car seat in his car.
"Heard the door shut, saw you walk off. Your hands in front of you, not at your sides. Like you were holding Kate. I drove away," the letter reads.
Then a cellphone started to ring over and over again as he drove, the note says. But Phillips couldn't silence the phone because he couldn't reach it.
He was frustrated, the letter says, because he thought Courtland was trying to control him by leaving the car seat in the car so he would have to bring it back to her. The letter says he had no idea Baby Kate was still in that seat and that he planned to ditch the car seat in frustration.
"(I) was just going to throw it out onto that area between Burger King. I pulled but it was jammed between the seats. That just made it worse," the letter reads. "I grabbed it at the top and ripped it out as hard as I could. She was thrown from it. I didn't know. I'm so sorry. Held her for a long time. Seemed like forever. Maybe an hour, maybe a minute."
"I've never cried that hard. Seemed like my throat was closing ... I was in shock."
The letter goes on to detail what Phillips did once he realized what had happened.
"I never even tried to help her. Never even thought to. Just sat there. Holding her. I don't think anything could have been done. Still I used to hate myself for not trying."
Then he drove and drove, the letter says, not even knowing where he was headed.
Then he stopped and got out of the car.
"For the first time I could think some. Thought about Kate. Her smile. The way she looks around. Everything. I cried until I somehow couldn't anymore. She was set in a peaceful place. I was walking and lost. ... For the first time I realized I had left her. I wanted to die."
But, he said, leaving the baby was never deliberate.
"It wasn't dumping a body," the letter reads. "Wasn't like that at all. I want her buried too. I don't know where she was left. No, it's not some f------ swamp or lake."
That seems to be an allusion to to evidence presented at his April trial regarding the plant life on Phillips' shoes.
After Phillips got home, he learned the police were involved. That same day, he was in police custody.
"Everything just happened, and I never had a chance to do the right thing," the letter reads.
A mention of marriage comes toward the end of the letter.
"Things spouses tell each other in confidence can't be made to testify. But we aren't married yet in the eye of the government," it reads.
The letter ends abruptly: "Out of time for mail. Destroy this. We'll talk."
Police say they know about the letter, but wouldn't comment further on Tuesday.
Wednesday, Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Spaniola released this statement regarding the letter and the marriage license:
"Recent reports by numerous media outlets have reported that (1) Ariel Courtland has applied for a license to marry Sean Phillips at the Ionia County Clerk's Office and (2) that Sean Phillips has allegedly authored and sent a letter to Ariel Courtland in which he admits to killing Katherine Phillips. This letter has been disseminated by WOOD-TV and posted on its website. This News Release is to provide comments from Paul Spaniola, Mason County Prosecuting Attorney, and also from the officers and detectives who continue to investigate this case.
copy of the same letter posted on the WOOD-TV website was obtained several weeks ago by the investigating officers from a family member of Baby Kate. It should be noted that this letter was not released to WOOD-TV by or on behalf of any law enforcement officer or agency.
"The Mason County Sheriff's Office and the Ludington Police Department continue to investigate this case as a homicide. As with any other case, it is important that the investigation be complete and thorough. Investigators continue to follow up leads that have been developed."
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