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Preliminary hearing reveals new details in Nob Hill killing of elderly man

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People walk through the second floor of the Hall of Justice in San Francisco, Calif. Monday, December 11, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

A San Francisco man held onto the belongings of his elderly friend for three months after he allegedly killed him inside a studio on Nob Hill, the prosecutors revealed in court Monday.

Michael Phillips, 64, is facing murder, robbery and other charges in connection with the mid-August killing of 75-year-old James Sheahan in an apartment building at 969 Bush St.

Police arrested Phillips on suspicion of the crime Nov. 22.

On the first day of the preliminary hearing in the case Monday, prosecutor Michael Swart offered new details in the killing while lead homicide investigator Sgt. Domenico Discenza took the stand.

Discenza said he found Sheahan’s wallet and journals in one of two storage lockers that belonged to Phillips. The lockers were full of memorabilia for cartoon characters, superheroes and comic books, Discenza said.

At a previous court appearance, Swart said that Phillips had taken items from other ill elderly men; however, those cases have not been charged.

The prosecution also offered clues as to a possible motive for the homicide. Discenza said Phillips posted on Facebook asking his friends for money.

Discenza said bank records showed that Phillips had cashed two checks from Sheahan after the killing in late August and September. One of the checks was for $3,500, the other for $4,000.

Discenza said Phillips was married Oct. 30 to a man he met online and helped bring to the U.S. from the Philippines.

Phillips planned to find work for his husband as a caretaker for Sheahan, he later told Discenza during a police interrogation.

His husband told Discenza that Phillips had given him about $20,000 throughout their relationship.

“They fell in love and he was coming to the U.S.,” Discenza said. “Mr. Phillips was going to help him find a job as a caretaker.”

Swart said surveillance footage he played in court showed Phillips entering and exiting the Nob Hill apartment building numerous times on Aug. 13, the day before police found Sheahan dead with blunt force injuries in the studio.

Sheahan was last seen alive Aug. 11.

The video clips from throughout the day showed a man carrying a Trader Joe’s bag and wearing gloves and a red sweater or a Jurassic Park T-shirt. Discenza said police later found the Trader Joe’s bag and gloves in Phillips’ car.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Kwixuan Maloof described the studio as “a very, very bloody scene.” Maloof listed off all the household objects with blood on them: a couch, a bed, a bookcase, a desk.

“You would think that the suspect must have been covered in blood?” Maloof asked Discenza.

Yet the prosecution did not claim Phillips had blood on him in the video clips.

Swart is expected to call his next witness in the preliminary hearing Wednesday.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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