JANE VELEZ-MITCHELLMissing Baby`s Mom to Marry Prime Suspect?
Aired September 13, 2012 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL" starts right now.
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST: Tonight, a bizarre twist in the mystery of a missing baby girl. Her mom wants to marry the little girl`s father, who just happens to be the cops` main suspect in the child`s disappearance. Why does she want to marry him? And did the suspect write a chilling jailhouse letter that reveals what happened to little Baby Kate?
VELEZ-MITCHELL (voice-over): Tonight, a beautiful 4-month-old baby missing more than a year. Now, in an incredible twist, claims that the child`s mother wants to marry the baby`s father, even though cops say he`s the prime suspect in Baby Kate`s disappearance. And now there`s even a letter reportedly detailing what he says happened to the baby girl. Does it implicate him in his daughter`s death? We`ll investigate this hideous mystery.
ARIEL COURTLAND, MISSING BABY`S MOTHER: I don`t see how she could be OK. But I don`t want to think like that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She`s just a tiny thing. She could be anywhere.
COURTLAND: I don`t know where she`s at. And as a mom, it`s hard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sean Phillips drove away with 4-month-old Kate Phillips after arguing with her mother.
COURTLAND: This isn`t the Sean that I know. This isn`t the Sean that anybody knows.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are these the clothes that you last saw her in?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of Phillips` pockets appeared to be stuffed with something.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Sean (ph) said that it`s her clothes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He repeatedly asked Phillips where Kate was. One answer stood out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He then referred to Katherine as dead.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The note found in Sean`s jail clothes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To us that was a confession.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We, the jury, find the defendant guilty.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guilty of unlawful imprisonment of his daughter, Baby Kate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mystery about her whereabouts, a mystery Courtland says she cannot solve.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is Kate now?
COURTLAND: I have no idea.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, the baffling case of a missing 4-month-old baby girl, a precious child, takes an even more disturbing turn. Baby Kate`s mother, Ariel Courtland, wants to marry the girl`s dad even though he`s the main suspect in this little child`s disappearance.
Good evening. I`m Jane Velez-Mitchell, coming to you live.
Sean Phillips is right now serving 10 to 15 years in prison. Cops got him on unlawful imprisonment in the case of his missing infant daughter. Mom Ariel is barred from even visiting Sean in prison, because she`s considered a victim of the crime. Well, now she says she wants to marry him so she can demand to visit him in the hopes of getting some answers about what really happened to her precious baby.
Baby Kate vanished in June of last year following a big argument between the couple. Ariel says she left Sean and Baby Kate in the car while she quickly went inside her house. When Ariel walked back out, the car was gone. she never saw her baby girl again.
Listen to the message she left Sean`s mother later that day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COURTLAND: Hi, Kim, it`s me. You`re missing all my phone calls. That`s fine. But Sean kidnapped our daughter. He has her somewhere. I don`t know what he`s doing. I want my daughter back. And if he has harmed one single hair on her head, I will kill him. Do you understand, Kim? I want my daughter back. And I want her back now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now she wants to marry him.
Our affiliate, WOOD, obtained a jailhouse letter believed to be from Sean to Ariel. It says Baby Kate died by accident as he ripped her car seat out of the car without knowing she was there. Hmm. Is that a confession? Can the story be believed? Is the letter legit? Did he really write it? We`ll analyze all that in a moment.
I want to hear your thoughts on this baffling mystery. Call me: 1- 877-JVM-SAYS, 1-877-586-7297.
Straight out to Leon Hendrix, reporter for WOOD-TV. You`ve been covering this case for a year. What do you make of this jailhouse letter? Why do you think it`s legit? And what`s its significance?
LEON HENDRIX, REPORTER, WOOD-TV (via phone): Well, of course, you know there`s no way to really know if it`s legit. But it sounds like the prosecution, the authorities working on the case, do think it`s legit. And that`s how they`re handling it.
But it was quite the surprise to get. All along, Sean Phillips` defense has been pointing the finger at Ariel, saying that she was the last person with the baby. And now this letter seems to be somewhat of a confession that the baby was in the car, that he took the baby away not realizing that she was there. And somehow accidentally killed her. And then just left her somewhere.
That`s another report about the letter. He says he has no idea where she is. That he just kept driving and left her in what he called a peaceful place.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, what`s fascinating about that is that investigators studied his shoes and found mud and even think they can trace it to a particular marshy area. So he may not remember, but maybe his shoes will reveal what happened.
Now, Baby Kate vanished following a very nasty argument between the couple. Sean was in his car, nobody disputes that, parked in Ariel`s driveway with the baby in the car seat. Sean claims he thought Ariel had taken the baby inside. In his jailhouse letter, purported from him to Ariel, Sean claims he got angry as he drove away and then stopped to dump the car seat outside a fast-food restaurant as a way to get back at her.
Quote, "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." What?
Steve Moore, former FBI agent, you`ve said the letter is going to sink him. Does it make any sense? I mean, how do you pick up a car seat and throw it and not realize a baby is inside?
STEVE MOORE, FORMER FBI AGENT: You can`t. And how do you throw a car seat out of the car when it`s buckled into the car? Their -- his story makes no sense. He couldn`t have unbuckled it without seeing the baby. He couldn`t have thrown the thing out and had the baby come out because they`re made not to open like that.
What`s going to happen is this letter is going to be used. And it`s going to verify certain parts of his story. And they can dismiss others. He`s just pretty much confessed to most of the murder.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. Now, they could use that letter against him, potentially. Except maybe he`s told other stories. In fact, he has.
Mom, Ariel Courtland, says Sean initially pressured her to get an abortion. She says they later discussed giving the baby up for adoption. Sean`s attorney grilled Ariel about that on the stand. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were going to get an application for an abortion online?
COURTLAND: Ask your client. It was his idea.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I`m asking you.
COURTLAND: I don`t know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ariel, you texted this to him: "Trying to make the app online."
COURTLAND: I said I don`t know. What do you want me to say? I don`t know is my answer. Move on.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you asked about an application. What`s the application...
COURTLAND: I don`t know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Wow. That woman now wants to marry the man who`s the prime suspect in the disappearance of her child. Prosecutors introduced a note found in Sean`s jailhouse jumpsuit following his arrest. In it Sean wrote he had given the baby, Kate, to a man who was supposed to hand her over to some adoptive parents.
Now, Joey Jackson, criminal defense attorney, we`ve heard a letter purportedly written by Sean where he says, oh, he accidentally threw the baby out while trying to destroy the car seat in a fit of rage. Now we`re hearing another letter that was found in his pocket, saying he gave the baby to a man who gave it to adoptive parents. How can any of this be used to prosecute him when he`s telling different stories at different times?
JOEY JACKSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes. You know what? It`s interesting, Jane. Because it becomes a question of credibility. The first thing that will happen, of course, is that the defense lawyers will make efforts to keep them out. They`re not sworn statements. They`re not, you know, done with the imprimatur of the court or anything else. However, they are party admission.
So the question is, are they admissible? They probably will be, as ruled by a judge. Then it becomes a question of fact as to whether or not they`re truthful. And when you have someone saying inconsistent things at inconsistent times, it becomes whether or not they lack what we call in law veracity, believability, reliability. And if they`re not reliable, it becomes very problematic.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Joey? Joey?
JACKSON: Yes, Jane.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: The baby is somewhere.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: The baby was last seen with this man. They can`t find this precious child, who cops fear is likely dead. They only managed to get him on a lesser charge because as they say, no body, no case. But again, if he`s writing different stories at different times, can they prosecute him successfully for murder?
Dr. Brian Russell, you`re a forensic psychologist. What do you think?
DR. BRIAN RUSSELL, FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, Jane, I remember when we talked about this case when it first broke. And I feel the same about it today as I did back then. It sounds to me like a guy who did not want to be a father. He wanted to get rid of this child. The mother wouldn`t go along. And so he got rid of the child.
We`ve got implausible stories during, after. It`s shades of Casey Anthony, in a way, because even if you accidentally threw your child across a convenience store parking lot, you would immediately call 911 and say, "Oh, my God, I accidentally hurt my child. Please come see if you can save the child."
But we don`t have that. We have concealment of the body. We have telling of stories afterwards to cover up everything. I feel just exactly the same as I did when you and I discussed this like a year ago.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: On the other side, callers lining up. And we`ll tell you why there`s a parallel to the disappearance of Haleigh Cummings. Remember Misty and Ron?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JORDAN HARTLEY, MASON COUNTY SHERIFF`S DEPARTMENT: He was wearing a T-shirt. I could see the muscle on the right bicep was twitching, involuntarily twitching. Very nervous. His stance was a boxer stance. He was clenching his fist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And that`s law enforcement describing the father of this little baby. His name is Sean Phillips. He`s currently doing some hard time on this disappearance, but they can`t get him on murder, because there is no body of this child.
He claims -- in this letter, purportedly claims that, oh, he didn`t realize that the child was in the car seat, and he in the fit of rage, threw the car seat and the child died. But none of it seems to really make a lot of sense.
We`re going out to the phone lines to try to figure this case out. Rachael, Indiana, your question or thought, Rachael.
CALLER: Yes, Jane. I wanted to know if there`s been any history of mental or physical abuse toward this woman by her husband to make her act the way she`s doing.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, Leon Hendrix, what`s the back story on this couple? He`s obviously got problems. Does he have a rap sheet, a history of psychiatric illness? And what about her?
HENDRIX: This is a classic story of high school sweethearts. This couple has been together on again/off again for years since Ariel, the mother, was in her mid-teens.
And what is sad is that she was -- she was, and some still say she is, madly in love with Sean Phillips. And he was trying to pull away from it. They already have one child together. And it was said when she got pregnant with the second child, he really didn`t want that child to be his and was avoiding having the paternity test. And didn`t want to be a part of that. Wanted not to connect with that child. And she was always trying to cling back toward him. That`s how the story goes.
As far as a rap sheet, neither one of them have very serious criminal pasts. In fact, Sean Phillips was in the military before all this.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Leon, what you`ve described is incredible dysfunction. Somebody who wants to have a relationship and apparently doesn`t use the protection that wouldn`t result in a child, but then, "Oh, I don`t want to know if it`s mine." And now the child is missing and presumed dead. And look at this angelic face, relying on adults to protect her.
Ariel, the mother, told a local reporter that she wants to marry Sean. Here`s her stated excuse, so she can go and visit him in prison and get some real answers about what happened to their baby.
Now, Sean, what`s his motive for possibly wanting to marry? Well, in the jailhouse letter he said -- and it`s believed to be from him. He wrote it to Ariel. And he said, "Things spouses tell each other in confidence can`t be made to testify. But we aren`t married yet in the eyes of the government."
So under Michigan law, that spousal privilege is what he appears to be referring to. Guess what? It can`t be used in a criminal case where a child has been harmed.
But, Joey Jackson, it sounds like he may not know the law. So maybe he`s trying to marry her so that she can`t testify against him in a more serious case if it comes up. And that`s not going to work.
JACKSON: Jane, interestingly enough, no, it will not work. Because as you so clearly state and so rightfully state, the marital privilege, which of course, protects communications between husband and spouse and pillow talk, can`t be used in the event that he tells her something incriminating because of the exception where it relates to children and children potentially being hurt. Anything he says to her, it`s fair game.
And so he needs, certainly, to be briefed on the law before he goes and tells her further issues. Although it might be nice if he does, because then, of course, we can get to the bottom of where this child is, did he kill the child, where is the body, et cetera, et cetera, Jane.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: None of it makes sense. If this letter is from him and he says, "Well, I threw the child out in a fit of rage, not realizing she was in the car seat," well, then, how does he not know what he did with the child? And his boots are muddy. And they`re trying to find out exactly what marsh his boots were in.
On the other side, parallels to the Haleigh Cumming case and more calls.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
APRIL LANGE, MISSING BABY`S GRANDMOTHER: Sean doesn`t do anything that he doesn`t want to. You know, Ariel would see him and talk to him every day if she could, to beg where Kate`s at. But I do know they have met twice. And he has not said anything about where she`s at.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: That is the grandmother of the missing baby talking about the baby`s father who wrote purportedly in a letter, "I wasn`t dumping a body. It wasn`t like that at all. I want her buried, too. I don`t know where she was left."
You know, it doesn`t really make sense. If he is saying that he was the one who hurt her and essentially killed her, if that`s his letter, then he would know where he put her.
Now, meanwhile the mother of this child wants to marry Sean claiming, "Well, that`s how I can demand to see him in prison and get answers from him."
We`ve seen this before. You remember when 5-year-old Haleigh Cummings vanished from her family`s trailer a few years ago. The precious little girl hasn`t been found. She`s presumed dead. In an eerie parallel, Haleigh`s father, Ron, married then-girlfriend Misty Croslin, who was the last person to see Haleigh alive. Some speculated it was an attempt to avoid have to testify against each other.
But Ron said, "I want to get close, and I want to stay close to Misty so I can find the truth." Is it a realistic way? They`ve since gotten divorced, and they`re both in jail for a long time on drug charges.
Let`s go out to the phone lines. Shannon, North Dakota, your question on this case of this missing Baby Kate.
CALLER: Yes, thanks for taking my call from North Dakota. North Dakota loves you. My theory is, I think the baby was already dead. And he went and disposed of the baby.
And they were supposed to do a DNA test. Why would you want to go back upstairs to get a stroller when you got a car seat to carry the baby in the car seat to go into the hospital to take a DNA test? You wouldn`t need a stroller for that. And did they do any DNA test on the clothing to see if there was any decomposition matter on the clothes at all?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, Steve Moore, former FBI agent, they haven`t been able to find the body and therefore, the clothes that the child was wearing when she vanished. But what about that idea that this is all fiction and that something happened in the house before the baby was put in the car or maybe the baby was never put in the car seat?
MOORE: Well, you can`t discount that. But what you can do is look at his story step by step by step. If he says something that`s very specific and you can verify it, that`s very helpful. If he says, "Then I left the child with a unicorn and it flew away," then you know he`s back off into the -- into the craziness.
But what -- what you can do is use different parts of the story and find out -- liars like that tend to try and keep it as close to truth as possible. So I think he`s -- I think he`s finished right now.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I think polygraph him and find out where he`s lying. And then do the math, follow the mud on his shoes and find this precious child. She deserves justice.