Prosecution, Defense Offer Very Different Theories on the Guilt and Innocence of Defendant in Samantha Woll Murder

July 09, 2024, 4:25 PM by  Allan Lengel

Prosecutor Ryan Elsey and Defense Attorney Brian Brown

After a 4 1/2 week trial full of experts, FBI and police investigators and friends and former lovers of murder victim Samantha Woll, the prosecution and defense delivered closing arguments that offered sharply contrasting theories on the guilt or innocence of defendant Michael Jackson-Bolanos. 

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Ryan Elsey told jurors that Jackson-Bolanos, 29, had been roaming Woll's Lafayette Park neighborhood in the early morning hours of Oct. 21, checking to steal from unlocked cars, when he jumped at the opportunity to break into Woll's unlocked townhouse. 

"Once he's inside that house he doesn't expect to find somebody in that living room," Elsey aruged, saying that Jackson-Bolanos made a snap decision to "unleash an outburst of violence" and stab Woll eight times to make certain she couldn't identify him. He said, that explained blood spots later found on the defendant's North Face jacket and backpack. 

Woll, 40, was active in Democratic politics and was the president of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit.

Defense attorney Brian Brown said that authorities arrested the wrong guy, feeling pressure from the media to quickly find a culprit in the high-profile case. He suggested the murder happened hours earlier than authorites theorized, at a time his client was seen on security video walking around the city. Authorities said Woll was stabbed inside and stumbled outside where she was found.

Brown said his client had stumbled upon Woll's body outside the townhouse hours after the murder, and touched her neck to see if she was OK, which is why Woll's blood was found on the jacket and  backpack. He said there was never any evidence showing Jackson-Bolanos inside the home.

He said the number of stab wounds suggested it was a crime of passion, perhaps committed by Woll's ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Herbstman or some other love interests. He attacked investigators, saying they failed to do a thorough job of clearing those potential suspects. 

"This is a crime of passion," Brown said, adding, "we're not saying he's an angel. But he's not a murderer."

After closing arguments, Wayne County Circuit Judge Marget Van Houten delivered jury instructions and dismissed the jurors for the day. Deiberations begin Wednesday morning.  

Jurors will have a lot to digest from the trial that included photos, videos and testimony, including Jackson-Bolanos, who testified on his own behalf. 

In closing arguments, the prosecutor worked to discredit the testmony of Jackson-Bolanos, showing that he lied dozens of times to investigators, first denying that he stole from cars in the early morning hours of Oct. 21, night, and that he never saw a body on the ground. 

Elsey theorized that Woll came home from a Sterling Heights wedding around 12:30 a.m., changed into comfortable clothes and was in the livingroom. Her phone last locked at around 1:35 a.m.

He said an ADT security motion detector in the apartment activated at 4:20 a.m., which is when he believes the murder took place. He theorized that the stabbing was quick, then Jackson-Bolanos ran off and was spotted on a security video near Greektown, about a quarter mile away, around 4:23 a.m.  He noted that Jackson-Bolanos could easily of made it to that point in that short of time by running.

He said weeks later investigators tested Jackson-Bolanos's jacket and found Woll's blood on the sleeve and one other area and on the backpack. He said it was from stabbing Woll to death, not from stumbling upon her body outside and touching her neck.

“He did touch her neck,” he said. “He touched her neck with the knife that he plunged into her."

During trial, the prosecution played an audio tape of Jackson-Bolanos talking to his girlfriend from a recorded phone at the county jail and getting upset when she mentioned that she had washed his North Face jacket before authorities tested it for blood. He acted mad that she was talking about it on the phone but also suprised that she washed it.

Prosecutor Elsey argued that it was disingenous for the defendant to act surprised when in fact, according to his girlfriend's testimony, he had put the coat in the laundry hamper for her to wash.

Elsey challenged the defense theory that the murder took place about 1:20 a.m., around the time a neighbor heard noises, and that Woll passed out for a few hours before coming to around 4:20 a.m. and activating the motion detector. Brown suggested it was then that she stumbled outside.

Jackson-Bolanos testified that when he touched her body at that time, she was cold to the touch.

Elsey said she couldn't possibly be cold to the touch if she had just stumbled outside and was alive minutes before.

"It makes absolutely no sense," Elsey said. 

Brown argued that it was a crime of passion, an attack that involved a struggle and went on for many minutes. He pointed to the blood around the townhouse and that some items out of order.

He also pointed the finger at some of Woll's love interests, but particularly focused on ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Herbstman, who was arrested at one point, before Jackson-Bolanos, after he told police he didn't remember anything but he may have had something to do with murder.

Herbstman later said that he was having a panic attack and was disoriented the night he made the statement to police. He said his unabalanced condition may have been the result of doubling his medication for depression and taking several hits from a cannabis vape. Investigators testified that they thoroughly investigated him, but never found evidence to charge him. 

Brown suggested that Herbstram, who has a Ph.d from the University of Michigan, tried to outsmart investigators by leaving his phone at home during the murder so it wouldn't be detected by cell phone towers. He also speculated that perhaps he rode his bicycle to Woll's home to commit the murder.

Elsey countered in his rebuttal during closing arguments, saying there was absolutely no evidence pointing to Herbstram or anyone else, calling Brown's argument a "complete waste of time and a complete distraction."

Brown also suggested that if the motive for breaking in to the townhouse was robbery why was there nothing of value missing. Elsey countered by saying there was no way Jackson-Bolanos would murder Woll, then take things like her laptop and purse that could be traced back to the killing. 

Ultimately, Brown said, his client was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he stumbled upon the body.

Elsey argued that Woll was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- her townhouse, when Jackson-Bolanos stabbed her to death.   











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