Prosecutors say money drove lovestruck man to kill as Nob Hill murder trial closes

On a weekend last August, 64-year-old Michael Phillips walked into a Nob Hill apartment building with gloves on his hands and a desperate need for money. A camera recorded over the next few hours as he walked up and down the stairs leading to the apartment of his 75-year-old friend, James Sheahan.

Inside the apartment, prosecutors say Phillips asked Sheahan for a loan to fly a man he met online from the Phillipines to the U.S. But when Sheahan refused, Phillips allegedly bashed him over the head more than 13 times, most likely with the blunt edges of a landline telephone.

That was the story Assistant District Attorney O’Bryan Kenney told jurors Monday during his closing argument in the murder case against Phillips, who is now 65. Among the 10 counts Phillips is facing are robbery and burglary for allegedly stealing the wallet and cashing the checks of his dead friend.

Phillips, a longtime San Francisco resident who worked at Trader Joe’s, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

His attorney, Kwixuan Maloof of the Public Defender’s Office, is expected to make his closing argument in the case Tuesday, but has previously argued that Phillips is not the killer. Maloof has said Phillips was a good friend who Sheahan trusted with his money.

SEE RELATED: Murder trial begins for man accused of bludgeoning friend to death

Sheahan, a former city employee, was dying of lung cancer when he was last seen alive by his caretakers on Aug. 11, 2017. Prosecutors believe he was likely killed the following day after he buzzed Phillips into the apartment building.

Video Kenney played in court showed Sheahan putting on gloves as he walked into the lobby of the building at 969 Bush St. carrying a bag and wearing a red hoodie over a Jurassic Park t-shirt.

Sheahan exited and entered the building repeatedly Aug. 12.

“He killed him on that first visit,” Kenney said. “He asked [for money] and when the answer was no, he killed.”

Kenney said the first time Phillips left he went straight to the bank and tried to withdraw money from Sheahan’s account using his wallet. He allegedly had a blood stain on his pants, likely from kneeling in a pool of blood.

Sheahan’s body was found days later Aug. 14. The living room was covered in blood. Investigators also discovered blood spots in the kitchen and flesh material on the landline telephone. Kenney said the body had been moved, like someone had tried to clean up the mess.

Before the killing, Sheahan wrote in his journal that he suspected Phillips was using their friendship to get money, according to the prosecutor.

Phillips was known for asking for money on the internet through sites like GoFundMe. He had floated the idea of bringing his boyfriend over from the Phillipines to work for Sheahan as a caretaker. But Sheahan declined.

“Jim Sheahan knew, he knew what this was, and he wasn’t going to give him money, not even a loan,” Kenney said. “And it’s that refusal that cost him his life.”

Kenney also described Phillips as being “deep in debt,” owing thousands to the IRS.

After the killing, Phillips allegedly cashed $12,000 in checks from Sheahan. He tried to cash another $4,000 check but was unsuccessful, according to Kenney.

Police found a $2,000 check from Sheahan at his house when it was searched. Kenney alleged that the checks were likely forged.

In October 2017, Phillips brought his boyfriend to the U.S. and was married. The following month, police stopped him in his car and arrested him. Sheahan’s blood was allegedly found in a bag in the car.

“Mr. Phillips was going anything he could to support his habit,” Kenney said. “His habit was this man.”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Michael Barba
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