(Examiner file photo)

Jury weighs murder charge for man accused of killing elderly friend in Nob Hill

Jurors began deliberations Tuesday in the trial of a man accused of beating his elderly friend to death for refusing to loan him money to fly his boyfriend into the country from the Philippines.

Michael Phillips, 65, is facing 10 counts including first-degree murder after a surveillance camera captured him entering and exiting the Nob Hill apartment building where 75-year-old James Sheahan lived on a weekend last August.

Sheahan, who was dying of lung cancer, was last seen alive Friday Aug. 11, 2017. Three days later he was found face down in his apartment at 969 Bush St., having been struck over the head 13 times, most likely with a landline telephone.

In his closing argument Monday, prosecutor O’Bryan Kenney painted Phillips as a desperate man who killed Sheahan because he would have done anything for money to marry his “habit,” a Filipino man named Archie. Kenney said Phillips cashed thousands in checks from Sheahan after the killing.

But defense attorney Kwixuan Maloof cast doubt on that theory in his closing argument Tuesday, telling jurors that Phillips and Sheahan had fostered a deeply personal friendship over more than a decade. Maloof said Sheahan once wrote in his journal, “Mike has turned out to be a very good friend. God bless him!”

Maloof said the two men vacationed in San Diego together. When Sheahan became sick, Phillips would take him to the hospital and collect his mail. Maloof said they were so close that Sheahan asked Phillips to take tapes from his “giant” pornography collection so that his family would not find them when he died.

“They were such good friends that James trusted Michael with things he trusted no one else with,” Maloof said.

Maloof argued that police have not captured the actual killer. According to the defense theory, that person broke in through a window in the apartment and surprise attacked Sheahan from behind on Aug. 14, 2017.

Maloof said surveillance video from outside the building showed someone flick a cigarette from the apartment window in the early morning before Sheahan’s body was found. Neither Sheahan nor Phillips smoked at the time.

Investigators also found two lighters in the apartment, including one with DNA on it that did not belong to either Sheahan or Phillips.

Kenney argued that Phillips tried to confuse investigators by leaving a window ajar to stage a burglary. Phillips also allegedly slit Sheahan’s wrists to make the homicide look like a suicide.

Kenney tried the case based on circumstantial evidence. Phillips was caught on video entering and exiting the apartment wearing gloves and carrying different bags. He entered the building using keys and when he walked down the stairs, he had different spots on his pants that looked like blood on video.

Maloof tried to poke holes in the evidence. He said no fibers collected at the crime scene matched the gloves, other caretakers for Sheahan also had keys to the apartment and three pairs of Phillips’ pants tested negative for blood. Maloof said the apparent blood stains could have been jelly or cranberry juice.

“There is absolutely nothing that Michael had on him that had a nanogram of blood on it,” Maloof said.

Phillips was arrested in November 2017. By that point, his partner had flown to the U.S. and the two were married.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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