Defendant in Samantha Woll Case: Simply a Petty Thief in the Wrong Place, Or a Vicious Murderer?

July 07, 2024, 8:21 AM by  Allan Lengel

Michael Jackson-Bolanos on the stand Wednesday.

Jurors will soon have to decide: Was defendant Michael Jackson-Bolanos simply a petty thief in the wrong place at the wrong time, or a vicious murderer who took the life of downtown Detroit synagogue president Samantha Woll?

Appearing calm and composed, Jackson-Bolanos testified last Wednesday, the last day court was in session for the week because of the 4th of July holiday. He'll resume his testimony on Monday, and the jury could begin deliberating later this week. 

Jackson-Bolanos testified last week that he was roaming the streets of Detroit on Oct. 21 looking to steal from unlocked cars. He said he found surgical gloves in a backpack in a car and wore them to prevent his fingerprints from showing up on vehicles.

In the early morning hours, he testified, he saw something on the sidewalk, and as he approached, he realized it was a body. He said he put his right hand near the neck and tried to see if the person was breathing. She was not, and he fled. He said he was not carrying a knife that night.

He said he didn't stick around or call authorities because he didn't want to bring attention to his criminal activity that night; nor did he think it was a good idea for a Black person to be linked to a dead body in the early morning hours. He also said he couldn't afford another conviction for theft from cars because that would surely mean serious prison time.

The Detroit News reported in December that one of the convictions in 2014 involved receiving and concealing stolen property. He served four years and accumulated 40 misconduct violations in prison, including some for violent assaults.  

Through his testimony Wednesday, he suggested the spots of Woll's blood found on his North Face Jacket, which had been washed before investigators tested it, and on his backpack, were the result of him touching the body, and then his backpack. He was adamant that he had nothing to do with the murder.

Because of the holiday break, the prosecution has had plenty time to prepare a thorough cross examination, which could begin on Monday or Tuesday. The case may hinge on whether prosecutors can not only discredit Jackson-Bolanos, but convince the jury that he was inside her Lafayette Park townhouse.

Questions abound, and there may be too many for the prosecution to convince all 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecution theorizes that Jackson-Bolanos, 29, saw an opportunity to rob Woll and entered her townhouse and stabbed her eight times in the upper body. They believe she then stumbled outside where her body was found around 6:30 a.m.

Had her body been found inside, there would be little question that Jackson-Bolanos did it. How else could Woll's blood be found on his coat and backpack? But the discovery outdoors complicates the case. 

The prosecution theorizes that robbery was the motive, but the defense countered by saying nothing of value appeared to be missing from Woll's home.

Investigators have video of Jackson-Bolanos roaming the neighborhood, but none showing him going inside the house, or for that matter, stumbling upon the body. They also have no fingerprints inside the home. The prosecution may argue that was because he was wearing surgical gloves. 

Prosecutors said Woll's security system showed movement in the home at 4:20 a.m., and the movement sensor went dormant at 4:22 a.m. They believe that is when the murder took place. Other  security video shows Jackson-Bolanos walking near Greektown, about a quarter mile away from the home, at around 4:23 or 4:24 a.m. 

Jackson-Bolanos's attorney Brian Brown had argued in opening statements that his client couldn't have possibly committed the murder at 4:20 a.m. and showed up on the video a quarter mile away just minutes later. But that argument undermines Jackson-Bolanos's testimony that he stumbled across Woll's dead body after the murder. He also says the multiple stab wounds suggest a crime of passion involving someone the victim knew.

To counter the issue of showing up on the Greektown video so quickly after the murder, Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Chadwick Bloom, who had served on a homicide task force that investigated the Woll murder, testified late last month that it was possible to get from point A to point B in that short time.

Specifically, he testified that he tried three different methods; walking briskly, lightly jogging and sprinting from Woll's front door to the point that the defendant showed up on the video a quarter mile away.

He said it took him 3 minutes and 33 seconds briskly walking; 1 minute and 41 seconds jogging or lightly running and 1 minute and 10 seconds sprinting. There was video introduced during trial showing that Jackson-Bolanos was capable of running fast. 

During the upcoming cross, prosecutors will remind the jury that Jackson-Bolanos is capable of lying. After being arrested, he initially lied by denying he broke into cars, and told investigators that he never saw a body that night. 

"There was nobody out there," he said during an interrogation. "I didn't see anyone laying down."

Defense Brown has argued that his client initially lied because investigators lied by telling him they had evidence they did not actually have. He said that made Jackson-Bolanos defensive.

The defense has also played recorded phone calls Jackson-Bolanos made from the county jail to his girlriend, in which he was adamant that he had nothing to do with the murder, and he would have never have committed such a violent act against a woman.

The conversations sounded sincere. But prosecutors are likely to remind the jurors that calls from a jail start with a reminder that it is being recorded. They may try to suggest that Jackson-Bolanos knew that, and put on act, hoping investigators would buy into his passioned denials during the conversations. 


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