Prosecution rests, defendant testifies in Samantha Woll murder trial

Prosecutors rested their case on Tuesday, following several weeks of testimony from nearly 45 witnesses.

The booking photo of Michael Jackson-Bolanos, who has been charged with homicide in connection to the fatal stabbing of metro Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll.

The booking photo of Michael Jackson-Bolanos, who has been charged with homicide in connection to the fatal stabbing of metro Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll.

The man accused of slaying Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll last October took the stand in his own defense on Wednesday, vehemently denying allegations that he committed the crime.

Michael Jackson-Bolanos, 29, of Detroit, has been charged with first-degree murder, felony murder, home invasion and lying to police officers in relation to Woll’s fatal stabbing inside her Lafayette Park apartment on Joliet Place.

Throughout the four-week long trial, prosecutors have built their case around surveillance video and cell tower data that place Jackson-Bolanos near the scene around 4:20 a.m. on the night of the murder; as well as blood droplets police say were found on the North Face jacket and backpack he had been wearing that night.

Investigators were able to acquire more than 20 surveillance videos of the defendant between 12:40 a.m. and 5 a.m. on the night of the murder that appear to show him walking around the downtown area, checking car doors and casing vehicles.

Defendant takes the stand

During his testimony, Jackson-Bolanos admitted to discovering Woll’s body on the street and touching her neck to check for a pulse — describing her skin as “cold and crusty” to the touch, almost like “paint on a wall.” He said he initially lied to detectives about encountering her body out of fear of being implicated in the crime, admitting that he did not call 911 for the same reason.

“When I realized she was dead I wanted nothing to do with the entire situation,” Jackson-Bolanos told the jury. “I’m a Black guy in the middle of the night breaking into cars and I found myself standing in front of a dead white woman. That doesn’t look good at all.”

Jackson-Bolanos insisted on the stand that he never entered any homes or looked into any residential doors or windows that night, nor did he have anything to do with Woll’s murder, he said.

“Absolutely not,” he repeated adamantly.

However, his testimony contradicts statements he made during his interrogation by police, during which he denied  several times checking cars for valuables or encountering Woll’s body.

Prosecutors rested their case on Tuesday after hearing extensive testimony from nearly 45 witnesses, including the officers in charge of the investigation, forensic experts, Woll’s friends and neighbors, and other persons of interest in the case.

Read more: Testimony in Samantha Woll murder trial reveals ex-boyfriend’s retracted confession

Alternative timelines

Woll, 40, had attended a friend’s wedding the night before her death, and surveillance records from her ADT security system indicated she returned home around 12:30 a.m.

According to the ADT records, her door was left open at 1:01 a.m. and the system’s living room sensor went idle at 1:24 a.m., suggesting prior movement. Her phone was last unlocked at 1:29 a.m., according to testimony from investigators.

The last motion detected inside the home was at 4:20 a.m. in the living room — around the time police believe the murder occurred — and her body was found by a neighbor on the sidewalk around 6 a.m.

Defense attorney Brian Brown argues there is evidence to suggest the murder could have occurred much earlier, pointing to a surveillance clip obtained by police showing an unknown individual running from the direction of Woll’s apartment at 1:24 a.m.

Detroit Police Sgt. Lance Sullivan, a supervisor with the FBI Detroit Violent Crime Task Force, testified that investigators found the video to be noteworthy but no other surveillance of the individual was recovered to confirm the subject’s identity.

“We talked about it,” he told the jury. “A lot of the video was overwritten at that point.”

Richard Sanchez, Detective Lt. with the Michigan State Police and one of the officers in charge of the investigation, said the activity on Woll’s phone at 1:29 a.m. indicated to them that she was not killed in the 1:20 a.m. timeframe.

Brown also raised questions about his client’s alleged ability to stab Woll eight times inside her apartment at 4:20 a.m. and reach the Monroe Street bridge over Interstate 375 about a quarter mile away, where he was captured on surveillance at 4:24 a.m.

Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Chadwick Bloom testified last week to conducting three field tests to see how long it would take to traverse the distance between the two points — ranging from 3 minutes and 33 seconds at a brisk walk to 1 minute 10 seconds in a full sprint.

Brown called Michigan State Police Detective Trooper Elizabeth Stockmeyer — the other officer in charge of the investigation — as his first defense witness, focusing his questions around other possible persons of interest in the case that he believes were not fully investigated by police.

The trial will resume on Monday with continued testimony from Jackson-Bolanos.

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  • Jenny Sherman
    Jenny Sherman is 101.9 WDET's Digital Editor. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from Michigan State University and has worked for more than a decade as a reporter and editor for various media outlets throughout metro Detroit.