Gay SF man found guilty of first-degree murder
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A San Francisco Superior Court jury found gay city resident Michael Phillips guilty of first-degree murder Thursday, October 18 for the killing of his elderly gay friend, James Sheahan.
Sheahan's body was found in his blood-stained Nob Hill apartment August 14, 2017 and Phillips was arrested that November in connection with the death.
Phillips, 65, had pleaded not guilty in April to murder, robbery, and other charges related to the death of Sheahan, 75.
Thursday afternoon, the jury also found Phillips guilty of aggravated mayhem, first-degree burglary and robbery, first-degree residential burglary, theft or forgery or fraud of an elder, and theft of an access card. He was also convicted of fraud for financial documents.
The jury deliberated for about two days before the verdict was read to Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi. Phillips was crying loudly while the verdict was read. He did not testify during the trial.
Authorities involved in the case argued Phillips brutally killed Sheahan with a sharp object, made it look like a suicide, and then stole thousands of dollars from him, including paintings, forged checks, and attempted cash withdrawals with Sheahan's ATM card. Sheahan was suffering from Stage 4 lung cancer in the months leading up to his death. During the trial witnesses testified that Sheahan died from multiple traumatic injuries to the head caused by blunt force trauma.
The motive, Assistant District O'Bryan Kenney argued during the trial, was Phillips' desperate love for a Filipino man, Archie Arcaya Fuscablo, and Phillips' need to funnel money to Fuscablo to get him to the United States. As previously reported by the Bay Area Reporter, the two met online and married at City Hall October 30, 2017, just weeks after Fuscablo arrived in the U.S. and two months after Sheahan's death.
"He killed a man he knew for years and he did it for one motive," Kenney said during his closing argument earlier this week. "He had a desperate need to get money to bring a man here he wanted to be with and would stop at nothing to do that."
A member of the jury, Paul Smith, spoke with the B.A.R. moments after the verdict was announced. Smith, 55, said, "the evidence was overwhelming for the prosecution." When asked what the most incriminating evidence was he replied, "The video of the blood stains on [Phillips'] pants."
Other members of the jury declined to comment.
During the trial Kenney showed surveillance video of the defendant entering and exiting Sheahan's Bush Street apartment multiple times the weekend before authorities found his body. Two separate bloodstains appeared on Phillips' pants after he entered the apartment. Sheahan's blood was also found on a black and red Trader Joe's bag that he was carrying with him going in and out of the apartment.
Smith also said he was heavily swayed by the evidence that described how the defendant stole thousands of dollars and other belongings from Sheahan. The jury also saw surveillance video from a Wells Fargo ATM that showed Phillips went to two ATMs and attempted to withdraw cash with Sheahan's ATM Friday, August 11.
Deputy Public Defender Kwixuan Maloof focused on the lack of forensic evidence connecting Phillips to the murder throughout the trial and contended that someone else committed the killing and other charges against Phillips.
Phillips' DNA was not found at the crime scene, and Maloof also tried to argue that Sheahan died after Phillips was last seen exiting the apartment, as one medical examiner testified that the body was warm to the touch on August 14, when Sheahan was found.
Sentencing for Phillips has not been announced.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.