Closing statements begin in Samantha Woll’s murder trial

After two days of the defendant declaring “I didn’t kill her,” the jury in Samantha Woll’s murder trial will hear closing arguments Tuesday, with both sides offering conflicting accounts of the events in which the beloved Detroit synagogue leader and political activist was killed outside his home in 2023.

Prosecutors say 29-year-old Michael Jackson-Bolanos fatally stabbed Woll during a home invasion and left her for dead on the sidewalk in front of her home in Lafayette Park, east of downtown Detroit.

But Jackson-Bolanos, who took the rare step of testifying in his own defense, maintains that police have the wrong man. And his lawyer has pointed to other potential suspects, including Woll’s ex-boyfriend, who initially allegedly confessed to killing Woll during a panic attack, though prosecutors said the confession was false and never charged him.

Jackson-Bolanos, for his part, claims he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

‘I did not do that’

Jackson-Bolanos is accused of fatally stabbing Woll eight times in the face and neck during a home invasion in Detroit’s Lafayette Park neighborhood on Oct. 21, 2023.

During testimony Monday, Jackson-Bolanos again denied killing Woll but admitted that he initially lied to police about not seeing or touching her body because he was afraid he would be blamed for her murder. He also admitted that he did not call 911 after finding her on the ground and touched her neck to check for a pulse.

During a lengthy cross-examination, prosecutors at one point asked him if he was surprised to learn that he had told 40 lies in a single day of interviews with police.

“I’m not sure it’s surprising. I mean, try being accused of going and killing someone,” Jackson-Bolanos said.

During his testimony, Jackson-Bolanos told jurors that after he found Woll’s body, touched her cold neck and realized she was dead, he left the scene because, he explained, he was worried about what it would look like for a black man to be found next to a dead white woman.

He told jurors the same thing when he testified last week, saying, “I’m a black guy breaking into cars in the middle of the night and suddenly I’m faced with a dead white woman. That’s not a good look at all.”

But when asked whether Jackson-Bolanos killed Woll, his answers were consistent: no.

More: Defense: Police treated Samantha Woll’s ex-boyfriend ‘with egg’

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“I told (the police) the truth: that I didn’t do it, that I didn’t kill Mrs. Woll,” Jackson-Bolanos testified, emphasizing:

“I am here today, in accordance with my oath and affirmation, to tell the truth. I may have lied in the past, but today I tell the truth.”

Closing arguments are scheduled to begin at 8:45 a.m. in Wayne County Circuit Court, where jurors have spent four weeks hearing testimony in the high-profile case that devastated Detroit’s Jewish community as well as the upscale Detroit neighborhood where Woll lived and was likely murdered.

Accusation: Her blood was on his jacket

Prosecutors, meanwhile, have presented a different version of events that they are likely to emphasize during closing arguments Tuesday, when they will have the final word before the jury begins its deliberations.

During the trial, the prosecution portrayed Jackson-Bolanos as a liar who initially denied to police and his lawyer that he had stumbled upon Woll’s body. It also presented the jury with DNA evidence — noting that blood matching Woll’s was found on the defendant’s jacket — and citing surveillance footage and cellphone tower data that placed Jackson-Bolanos at the scene.

According to trial testimony, a neighbor found Woll dead outside her home. Inside, police found a bloody scene and signs of a struggle.

The defense argued that Jackson-Bolanos did not have enough time to kill Woll, given the time frame provided by the prosecution, and that there was no evidence linking Jackson-Bolanos to the crime scene.

The defense also named other potential suspects, including Woll’s ex-boyfriend, who was arrested in November 2023 after allegedly confessing to the crime during a panic attack. He testified at trial. The prosecution said his confession was false. He was never charged and later released.

Jackson-Bolanos has been charged with first-degree murder, premeditated murder, home invasion and making false statements to police.

If found guilty, he faces a life sentence.

This article was co-authored by Free Press reporter Andrea May Sahouri.

Tresa Baldas: [email protected]