Gay SF Man Charged in Murder
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A gay San Francisco man has pleaded not guilty to murder, robbery, and other charges related to the death of a man he had reportedly been caring for.
Michael John Phillips, 64, was arrested in late November in the death of James Sheahan, 75, a gay man who was found dead August 14 in his Nob Hill apartment.
Phillips, who's being held on $3 million bail, has pleaded not guilty to charges including murder, first-degree robbery, inflicting injury on an elder or dependent adult, manufacture or possession of fraudulent financial documents, and receiving or buying stolen property. A preliminary hearing, where a judge will determine whether there's sufficient evidence to hold Phillips for trial, has been scheduled for Thursday, December 7.
According to Bay City News, prosecutors have alleged that "Phillips befriended Sheahan, seeking to act as a sort of caretaker, and tried to get money from him before killing him when he refused." Phillips also "has a history of preying on sick elderly men in the gay community," prosecutors have reportedly said.
Max Szabo, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, declined to discuss evidence related to Sheahan's death with the Bay Area Reporter.
Sarah Sheahan, who lives in New York and is Sheahan's niece, said that her uncle, who'd been dying from Stage 4 cancer, had been hit in the head and the killer "attempted to make it look like he committed suicide" by making superficial scratches on Sheahan's wrists. She's not aware of a weapon being found.
Her mother told her that Phillips had forged a check from her uncle.
"I think it was $10,000," she said. Sheahan's checkbook was also missing from his apartment at 969 Bush Street, she said.
James Sheahan, who'd lived in his rent-controlled building for decades, left his estate, worth between $300,000 and $500,000, to his brothers, his niece said.
Sheahan said that her father had met Phillips, who'd been described to her as "a good friend who was helping" her uncle, but that he hadn't been working as "an employed caretaker." (Sheahan said that her family didn't want to speak with the media.)
Deputy Public Defender Kwixuan Maloof, who's representing Phillips, hasn't responded to interview requests.
The medical examiner's office hasn't issued a final determination of the cause of Sheahan's death.
According to Sheahan's obituary, he moved to San Francisco in 1978 and worked for years at the city's Health and Human Services Department before retiring in 2005.
"Jim's passions were photography and movies," and his family "marveled at the beautiful artistry of his photos," his obituary says.
While people who know Phillips have expressed shock at the charges against him, they also indicated he'd been in financial trouble.
John Dawson, of Marysville, California, who's known Phillips for 20 years, said that Phillips was "harmless."
"I never thought he would be capable of something like that," he said.
Dawson said he met Sheahan a couple of times, and Phillips told him that Sheahan "had given him money for helping him," but Phillips had also made fun of Sheahan behind his back.
Phillips had "a series of jobs that didn't work out in the last couple years," said Dawson, and he'd been fired from a Trader Joe's for stealing.
A woman who answered the phone at the store where Phillips had reportedly worked declined to talk about him.
Dawson said that Phillips was also fired from his job as a manager at the Mark Hopkins rental condominiums at 1200 Sacramento Street after his employer realized he'd been stealing from two elderly residents.
Phillips' former neighbors at the building, who didn't want their names published, appeared stunned at the news of the charges against him.
"He wouldn't even correct the UPS guy when the UPS guy was delivering things wrong. ... I can't really envision him murdering anybody," one woman said. She said that Phillips had told her Barbara Brooks, the building's owner, had fired him for stealing paperwork from her.
Court records show that Brooks filed an unlawful detainer complaint against Phillips in November 2015. Phillips, who worked there as an assistant residential manager, lived at the building rent-free as part of an agreement he and Brooks signed in May 2014.
According to Brooks' complaint, Phillips was notified on November 19, 2015 that his license to occupy his apartment had been terminated, but he'd "refused" to leave. The records don't say why the agreement was terminated.
Asked about Phillips in an interview, Brooks said, "He resigned. He wasn't fired." She said she couldn't remember why she filed the complaint, and she couldn't recall whether she'd accused him of stealing.
"We didn't want him around the building, for some reason," she said.
Dawson said that on October 30, 2017, Phillips and a man in the Philippines that he'd met online married in City Hall. He said that Phillips had traveled twice to see the man, whose name is Archie Arcaya Fuscablo. Fuscablo arrived in San Francisco in October, said Dawson.
Friends thought it was "a scam," and Phillips "was asking everyone for money. ... [Fuscablo] was asking Mike and Mike was asking all his friends," said Dawson. "He was desperate to make it all work and prove that it was real."
At the wedding, attended by Dawson and two witnesses, Fuscablo turned his head when Phillips was going to kiss him, allowing Phillips to give him a peck on the cheek.
Told of the charges against Phillips, Maria Nowicki, another friend who attended the wedding, said, "I just cannot believe it."
Nowicki said that she'd reluctantly loaned Phillips $2,000 in August to help him bring Fuscablo over from the Philippines. Phillips had agreed to repay her $250 a month, but he hadn't made a payment since September, she said.
At the wedding, which she described as "very, very weird," Nowicki said, "Mike seemed like he was just anxious to get married so that everything would be settled ... Archie was standing there almost like a robot" and showed "no emotion."
Dawson said that Fuscablo "flew back to the Philippines the day after Mike was arrested."
Phillips declined to be interviewed for this story, and Fuscablo hasn't responded to the B.A.R.'s Facebook messages.
In an October exchange with a friend after Phillips posted that he needed help, he said that he'd lost his job and finances had become "crippling."
He also posted in July that he'd spent all his savings on an "LGBT documentary comic book film" called "Secret Identities."
About a year ago, Phillips started a Gofundme page for Fuscablo. The crowdfunding campaign is no longer live.