Edwardsburg man sentenced for abusing child

An Edwardsburg man will be heading to a Michigan penitentiary for sexually abusing a child under his care.

Judge Michael Dodge sentenced 69-year-old James William Phillips to a minimum term of five years to a maximum term of 15 years in prison during his sentencing hearing in Cass County court Friday, for two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Phillips pleaded guilty to the charges on Dec. 7.

The counts arose from a series of sexual abuse that took place between 2011 and 2014, while the victim lived with Phillips.

The man used his authority over the pre-teenage girl to take advantage of her, engaging in frequent acts of sexual conduct, Judge Dodge said.

While maintaining his innocence in statements made in the pre-sentence report and in letters to the court, Phillips testified under oath that he had sexually abused the victim when she was at least 13 years old, Dodge said.

“This criminal sexual conduct was certainly exploitive and abusive,” the judge said. “It caused untold emotional trauma and psychological difficulties for the victim, both now and in the future.”

While unable to attend the proceedings in person, the victim, who is currently living in foster care, wrote a letter that was read to the court during the proceeding.

“I want him to go away for a long time,” the victim said in the letter. “I don’t want anyone to go [through] what I had to. It really messes you up.”

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Frank Machnik referred to Phillips as a “predatory monster,” pointing out that the man has engaged in similar behavior in the past, given his conviction for attempted criminal sexual conduct in Berrien County in 1991.

The prosecutor requested that the judge sentence Phillips to an extended prison sentence, between 10 to 15 years minimum.

“That this the only way this court can guarantee that it will protect the most vulnerable members of our society: Children,” Machnik said.

Phillips’ attorney, Martin Kirk, argued that probation was a more appropriate punishment for his client, who, at age 69, is dealing with health issues with his heart and lungs and has been hospitalized several times since his arrest. The attorney argued that further incarceration would be extremely expensive to state taxpayers, as the department of corrections would be responsible for paying for his medical expenses, Kirk said.

“He is a man that is essentially physically dying,” he said. “The type of sentence the prosecutor is talking about is a death sentence in prison.”

Phillips declined to comment on his own behalf when asked by Dodge.

In spite of Kirk’s arguments, Dodge sided with the prison recommendation provided by the state probation department, given the severity and impact of his abusive behavior on the victim.

“The money it will cost the state should not be the driving force in terms of what sentence the court imposes here,” Dodge said. “The touchstone should be justice, and what justice requires under these circumstances.”

Phillips was given 243 days credit for time already served.

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