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Jury begins deliberations in Samantha Woll murder trial

Jurors deliberate in murder trial of Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll
Jurors deliberate in murder trial of Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll 03:32

(CBS DETROIT) - Closing arguments were delivered and the jury began deliberations Wednesday in the murder trial of Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll.

Michael Jackson-Bolanos, 29, the man accused of killing Woll in October 2023, testified in his defense last week and on Monday, saying that he was walking that night, checking cars to see if they were unlocked, when he saw a person on the ground. He said he left when he realized the person was dead.

Jackson-Bolanos is charged with felony murder, first-degree murder, home invasion and lying to law enforcement. 

Jackson-Bolanos acknowledged that he didn't call the police after seeing the body and said, "My first reaction was to reach for my phone, but I had to consider where I was and what I was doing at the time," referring to how he was going into cars. 

After cross-examination by the prosecution, the defense called Detroit police officer Chad Ossman and FBI special agent Bryan Toltzis as rebuttal witnesses. 

Woll, the president of Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, was found stabbed to death outside of her home in Detroit's Lafayette Park neighborhood.

Defense attorney weighs in on Samantha Woll murder trial amid jury deliberation 06:46

"This is a case about coincidences. It's a case about common sense. And when you use that common sense and you look at the coincidences in this case, there's simply too many coincidences, too many coincidences to suggest that anyone other than the defendant killed her," Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Ryan Elsey said to the jury Tuesday during closing arguments. 

Elsey said law enforcement's investigation was a "triumph" and described it as a "Manhattan Project scale pull." 

"Once he's (Jackson-Bolanos) caught, he has nothing but lies to offer. Nothing but lie, after lie, after lie, after lie, after lie, after lie. But now that it's trial, he's got everything on the line. Ignore the other 50 times he lied, but believe him now. Don't believe him," Elsey said to the jury. "This is the common sense case for a conviction right here."

Elsey presented jurors with the prosecution's timeline of where Jackson-Bolanos was located on the night of Woll's murder, showing jurors surveillance footage, maps, photo evidence, phone calls and interrogation video. 

"He lies. He gets confronted with evidence, and then he often lies again," Elsey told jurors. "He changes his story. Gives you more lies. It's the trend that you've seen on full display throughout these interrogations and during his testimony at trial." 

Elsey told jurors that the defendant's motive to lie was the same motive to kill Woll. 

"The same motive that he had to kill Samantha Woll is the same motive that he had to run away from the scene, to lie to the police," Elsey said. "His claim was that he knew if he got in trouble for anything, he was going to go down. He was going to go down for a long time. And so what's the calculus once he's inside that house; doesn't expect to find somebody in that living room. Snap decisions made to unleash an outburst of violence because he doesn't want anybody to ever be able to say that's him inside a place he has no right to be in. He doesn't want to go down for that. The same motive he had to lie is the same motive he had to kill her." 

Elsey's closing arguments lasted nearly two hours. Following a brief break, defense attorney Brian Brown delivered his closing arguments, which lasted for more than two hours. 

Brown argued that the prosecution used half of the case to defend Woll's ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Herbstman, instead of showing evidence that would implicate Jackson-Bolanos in the murder. Herbstman initially confessed to killing Woll in a call to 911, but later recanted and claimed he was suffering from delusions as a result of increasing his antidepressants and smoking cannabis. 

"I can look at the evidence. I can use my common sense and come to the conclusion I know for a fact that Mr. Michael Jackson-Bolanos has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the death of Samantha Woll," Brown said. 

Brown said police arrested the wrong person and his client was in the "wrong place at the wrong time." 

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