A San Francisco jury found a man guilty of murder Thursday for bludgeoning his cancer-stricken friend to death more than a year ago inside the victim’s Nob Hill apartment.
Following two days of deliberations, jurors also found Michael Phillips, 65, guilty of robbery, burglary, mayhem, possessing fraudulent financial documents, receiving stolen property, elder abuse and elder theft.
James Sheahan, 75, a former San Francisco Health and Human Services Department employee, was last seen alive at his apartment in the 900 block of Bush Street on Aug. 11, 2017, by a caretaker. Days later, on Aug. 14, 2017, the building’s manager found Sheahan’s body inside the apartment beaten and covered in blood.
During the trial, Assistant District Attorney O’Bryan Kenney showed jurors surveillance video from the Bush Street apartment building that showed Phillips entering and exiting the building five times on Saturday Aug. 12, 2017, the day after Sheahan was last seen alive. Jurors also saw surveillance images taken that same day from a Wells Fargo bank showing Phillips trying to access Sheahan’s account using Sheahan’s ATM card.
However, according to Phillips’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Kwixuan Maloof, because Sheahan was suffering from stage-four lung cancer, he often asked his good friend Phillips to help him with tasks like depositing and withdrawing money from the bank.
Additionally, Maloof said that because of their friendship, Sheahan helped Phillips with his finances whenever he could.
The same day Sheahan’s body was discovered, Phillips deposited a check from Sheahan for $7,500. On Aug. 30, 2017, he deposited another check for $3,500 and on Sept. 15, 2017, Phillips attempted to deposit a final check for $4,000, which did not go through.
Because none of Phillips’ DNA was ever found at the crime scene, Maloof theorized that someone else entered the apartment, possibly through a kitchen window found ajar, and killed Sheahan.
Maloof said today:
“I’m quite shocked and surprised that the jury pretty much ignored the scientific evidence for circumstantial evidence.”
The city’s medical examiner concluded that Sheahan was struck in his apartment with a blunt object at least 13 times. Investigators believe the weapon was most 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, but it was unclear whether they were self-inflicted.
According to prosecutors, Phillips killed Sheahan on Aug. 12, 2017, in order to steal money so that he could help his boyfriend in the Philippines pay off loans and come to the U.S.
After Sheahan’s death, Phillips brought his boyfriend from the Philippines to San Francisco and married him. In November 2017, however, investigators arrested Phillips and a search of his home found that he was in possession of Sheahan’s wallet and credit card, another undeposited check from Sheahan for $2,000 and dated after Sheahan’s death and artwork and journals belonging to Sheahan.
Phillips is set to be sentenced on a later date.