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Father Gets 19-45 Years In Michigan's 'Baby Kate' Disappearance

LUDINGTON, Mich. (WWJ/AP) - A northern Michigan man convicted of second-degree murder in the disappearance of his 4-month-old daughter is "not an evil person," a judge said Friday in sentencing him to 19 to 45 years in prison.

A jury deliberated for two-and-a-half days in October before finding Sean Phillips guilty of killing Katherine Phillips, widely known as "Baby Kate." The girl disappeared five years ago in the Ludington area, about 80 miles northwest of Grand Rapids, but her body has never been found.

"The one thing I did find and do believe about you, Mr. Phillips, is that you're not an evil person," Judge Peter Wadel said Friday. "I didn't find anything in your history that shows you're an aggressive person, a predatory person."

Wadel said he did not believe Phillips and Kate's mother, Ariel Courtland, were fit to be parents, but while Courtland stepped up to the responsibility, Phillips did not.

Wadel also said he could not imagine Phillips intended to kill Kate the day she disappeared.

"I see a young man of great immaturity ... that was the state you were in at the time," Wadel said.

Prosecutors said Phillips had a turbulent relationship with Courtland and didn't want the baby. Assistant Attorney General Donna Pendergast told jurors that Kate "was a financial burden and an impediment to the defendant's lifestyle.

A key piece of evidence was a note written to Courtland by Phillips. He described how in a fit of anger Kate somehow was thrown from her car seat when he yanked the seat. He wrote that he "held her for a long time" and that she was in a "peaceful place." He didn't elaborate.

Pendergast had asked Wadel for a sentence of 40 to 75 years.

"He made the decision to eliminate the life of a human being ... a baby who couldn't stand up or fight back," Pendergast said.

Neither Phillips not Courtland made statements at the sentencing hearing. Phillips also did not testify during his 15-day trial. His lawyer has said that there wasn't proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Kate was killed.

The sentence will run concurrent with the 10- to 15-year sentence the 27-year-old Phillips already was serving for unlawful imprisonment in Kate's disappearance.

"Not only was a little girl denied the opportunity to grow up, but her family was forever changed by this man's actions," Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. "Those actions can never be undone, but my one hope is that today's sentencing provides a small amount of peace in knowing that the person responsible is finally facing the consequences of their actions."

Phillips was the last person to be seen with his daughter on June 29, 2011. After an argument, Phillips took the infant from her mother's home. For the next two hours he was unreachable and his whereabouts were unknown.

When Phillips resurfaced at his parents' house, his daughter was gone. The clothes she had been wearing were found in the pocket of the cargo shorts Philips was wearing, while her empty car seat and diaper bag were found in the trunk of his vehicle. His following actions and statements led to a charge of unlawful imprisonment in 2012, resulting in a 10-15 year prison sentence.

On open murder charge was filed against Phillips in October 2013, more than two years after Baby Kate went missing. The charge alleged that Phillips murdered his daughter. By definition, an open murder charge allows jurors to determine the level of the defendant's culpability. He was found guilty by a jury of second-degree murder in October 2016.

Despite exhaustive efforts by law enforcement over the past five years, Baby Kate has never been found.

TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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