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SF man to stand trial in killing of former city employee

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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 accused of killing a sick elderly friend in his Lower Nob Hill apartment in an attempt to steal from him was ordered to stand trial Wednesday afternoon for murder and other felony charges.

Michael Phillips, 65, will stand trial in the death of James Sheahan, a 75-year-old former employee of San Francisco’s Health and Human Services Department.

Sheahan was killed sometime between Aug. 11, when he was last seen alive, and Aug. 14, when his badly beaten and bloodied body was discovered in his apartment at 969 Bush St.

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

At a preliminary hearing that concluded Wednesday, Assistant Medical Examiner Ellen Moffatt said Sheahan had multiple traumatic injuries to the head and neck, probably from a blunt object. He also had cuts on both wrists, which were not likely to have been fatal, but it was unclear whether they were self-inflicted, Moffatt said.

Prosecutor Michael Swart alleged Phillips, who was trying to raise money to bring his then-fiance over from the Philippines, killed Sheahan for his money.

“Mr. Phillips was desperate for money,” Swart said. “He was asking people on Facebook for money.”

The fiance, who married Phillips in San Francisco in October but left the country the day after Phillips’ arrest, told investigators that Phillips had given him around $20,000 in total for student loans and travel and visa expenses.

Surveillance videos show a man identified by witnesses as Phillips entering and leaving Sheahan’s building multiple times on Aug. 12 and once on the morning of Aug. 13. He is buzzed in the first time, but enters on subsequent visits with a key, in some cases carrying cleaning supplies and other items in a box and bags.

Shortly after his first departure from the building another video shows him at an ATM machine attempting to withdraw money from Sheahan’s account using his ATM card.

Phillips then deposited a check from Sheahan on Aug. 14 for $7,500, another on Aug. 30 for $3,500 and on Sept. 15 for $4,000, according to testimony from Sgt. Domenico Discenza.

When Phillips was arrested on Nov. 22, a search found him in possession of Sheahan’s wallet and credit card, another undeposited check from Sheahan’s missing checkbook for $2,000 dated after Sheahan’s death and a piece of art and journals that appear to have been taken from Sheahan’s apartment, according to Discenza.

However Deputy Public Defender Kwixuan Maloof said none of the evidence added up to evidence of guilt, and questioned whether the person in the videos was actually Phillips. He noted that the video does not show the suspect ever actually enter Sheahan’s apartment and pointed out that prosecutors have not found any evidence of blood or other physical evidence tying Phillips to Sheahan’s death, or proved that the items he had were stolen.

“There’s a whole lot of speculation here,” Maloof said.

Phillips was ordered to stand trial on felony charges including murder, first-degree robbery, burglary, elder abuse and elder theft, and remains in custody with bail set at $3 million.

He is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 3.

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