Jurors began deliberating Tuesday in the murder trial for a man accused of bludgeoning his cancer-stricken friend to death inside his friend’s San Francisco apartment last year.
During his closing arguments, Deputy Public Defender Kwixuan Maloof maintained that his client, Michael Phillips, 65, couldn’t have killed 75-year-old James Sheahan because the two were good friends.
Sheahan, who was found dead in a pool of blood inside his Nob Hill apartment on Aug. 14, 2017, was suffering from stage-four lung cancer and Phillips regularly helped him with tasks like retrieving mail and going to the ATM to deposit and withdraw money, Maloof said.
Prosecutors believe Phillips killed Sheahan in order to steal money from him, so that Phillips could help his boyfriend in the Philippines pay off debts and come to the U.S.
Sheahan was last seen alive by a caretaker at his apartment in the 900 block of Bush Street on Friday Aug. 11, 2017.
Video surveillance from the apartment building on the next day, Saturday Aug. 12, 2017, showed Phillips entering and exiting the building multiple times.
The first time, Phillips is buzzed in the building, but on subsequent visits he enters with a key and at one point is seen carrying items out, including a box, a painting and rolls of paper towels. On the later visits, Phillips is seen wearing black gloves.
According to Maloof, that day Phillips was assisting Sheahan, per usual.
Surveillance video taken that day from a Wells Fargo bank shows Phillips attempting to access Sheahan’s account with Sheahan’s ATM card twice, with both attempts being unsuccessful. But, Maloof explained, Phillips was merely trying to deposit checks for Sheahan, but couldn’t because the machines were malfunctioning.
Additionally, Maloof explained, the items Phillips was seen taking from Sheahan’s apartment were not stolen. The painting was a gift as well as the box, filled with Sheahan’s old journals.
According to Maloof, the two were such close friends that Sheahan had entrusted Phillips with his old journals, fearing that his family would find them if he died.
On a previous occasion, Sheahan wrote in his journal that he had also entrusted Phillips with his large collection of pornography videos, writing, “I would not want my relatives or whoever to discover my dirty videos.”
As for the three rolls of paper towels Phillips was seen carrying out of Sheahan’s apartment on Aug. 12, Maloof explained that the two regularly shared groceries and Phillips was only taking his half, leaving three paper towels behind for Sheahan.
According to Maloof, because none of Phillips’ DNA was recovered at the bloody scene someone else committed the murder.
Maloof noted that the apartment’s kitchen window was found open and Sheahan’s caretaker said it was closed when she left that Friday. Additionally, Maloof said, the window lock was broken.
Maloof also pointed to the fact that the window leads directly to a fire escape, which can be easily accessed from a ledge of the Mayflower Hotel, located just next door.
The city’s medical examiner found that Sheahan was struck in the head and neck with a blunt object at least 13 times. Investigators believe the weapon was likely a landline telephone that had Sheahan’s blood seeped into it and pieces of his flesh on it.
Sheahan also had cuts on both wrists, which were not likely to have been fatal, but it was unclear whether they were self-inflicted.
Investigators believe the killer tried to clean up the scene, leaving behind bloodied tissue and two pairs of gloves.
Investigators, although, were able to recover a grocery bag with Sheahan’s blood inside in the trunk of Phillips’s car.
According to Maloof, in the early morning of Aug. 14, a neighbor reported hearing a loud scream and around the same time, outside surveillance video shows what appears to be a lit cigarette being tossed out from the direction of Sheahan’s apartment window. Sheahan did not smoke, nor does Phillips, Maloof said.
Two lighters were recovered at the crime scene.
Prosecutors have alleged that Phillips was desperate for money in order to help out his boyfriend in the Philippines. Around the time of Sheahan’s death, Phillips had asked friends for money on Facebook, describing the situation as a “life or death” one and also set up a GoFundMe account to acquire the funds.
According to Maloof, Sheahan tried to help out Phillips when he could with his finances.
The same day that Sheahan’s body was discovered, Aug. 14, 2017, Phillips deposited a check from Sheahan for $7,500. On Aug. 30, he then deposited another check for $3,500 and on Sept. 15, Phillips attempted to deposit a final check for $4,000, which did not go through.
Phillips eventually brought his boyfriend to San Francisco in October and married him.
After interviewing Phillips, on Nov. 22, 2017, investigators arrested him and a search of his home turned up Sheahan’s wallet and credit card, another undeposited check from Sheahan’s missing checkbook for $2,000 dated after Sheahan’s death, the allegedly gifted painting and Sheahan’s old journals.
Jurors will continue deliberations on Wednesday.