Man tells jury he found body but had no role in fatal attack on Detroit synagogue leader

DETROIT (AP) — A man charged with killing a Detroit synagogue leader during a violent overnight encounter denied any role Wednesday, telling jurors that he never entered her home but had discovered and touched her bloody body outdoors.

Michael Jackson-Bolanos repeatedly said “absolutely not” when his attorney asked if he broke into Samantha Woll's townhouse and stabbed her last October.

Woll's slaying immediately raised speculation about whether it was some type of antisemitic retaliation amid the Israel-Hamas war, though police quickly knocked down that theory.

Jackson-Bolanos acknowledged that he didn't call police to report what he had found.

“When I realized she was dead I wanted nothing to do with the entire situation,” he 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.”

His testimony was a dramatic moment in a trial that has mostly centered on circumstantial evidence. Police said Jackson-Bolanos' jacket had spots of Woll's blood. While there is video of him walking in the area, there's no evidence of him being inside her home.

Woll, 40, was found outside her home, east of downtown Detroit, hours after returning from a wedding. Investigators believe she was attacked inside the residence but got outdoors before collapsing.

She was stabbed multiple times and had head wounds. Jurors saw pictures of blood smeared on the floor of her townhouse.

Jackson-Bolanos told the jury that he was tugging on car doors at 4 a.m. to try to find unlocked vehicles when he saw Woll's body. His story suggested how her blood could have ended up on his coat.

“I didn’t shake the body,” he said. “I just checked the neck — no air, no breath or nothing. Once I realized I just touched a dead person I just grabbed the bag and I left.”

Jackson-Bolanos, who has past criminal convictions, said he feared calling police because he didn't want to explain what he was doing in the middle of the night.

It took weeks for police to settle on Jackson-Bolanos. Investigators first arrested a former boyfriend who made a hysterical call to 911 and told authorities that he believed he might have killed Woll but couldn't remember it.

Jurors saw video of the sobbing man's encounter with police last November in a parking lot.

“I had motive and opportunity and I don't know what the third one is but I probably had that, too,” he told officers.

But the man, who had been under treatment for depression, testified at trial that he had no role in Woll's death.

“I believe now it was an adverse reaction to a medication,” he said of delusions.

Woll's sister, Monica Rosen, said she had told police soon after the slaying that another man had been stalking Woll. But she testified that she was in shock at the time and “had no basis to use those words.”

“My sister was the epitome of good. She had no enemies to my knowledge,” Rosen said.

Woll was president of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. She was also active in Democratic politics, working for U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin and state Attorney General Dana Nessel. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Woll was a “beacon in her community.”

The trial, which began June 11, will resume Monday.


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