Emotions run high at murder trial
MENOMINEE — The Menominee County murder trial of Gregory S. Ihander continued for a third day today with witness testimony which is expected to continue into next week as more is revealed about the life and death of the victim.
Ihander is charged with open murder, a life felony, in the death of his former girlfriend, 43-year-old Jolene Eichhorn of Carney. Her body was located in her car found abandoned in the Cedar River Marina parking lot on Sept. 9, 2015.
Ihander was arrested later that same day after police found a large garbage bag in his home containing several bloody items.
Seventeen of a list of 75 potential witnesses took the stand Tuesday, presenting testimony to the 14-member jury which was chosen Monday after a full day of questioning in Menominee County Circuit Court.
Several items were also entered as evidence Tuesday including Eichhorn’s cell phone records, photographs of the victim before and after she died, and the alleged murder weapon.
The first witness to testify Tuesday was Eichhorn’s daughter, Cassandra Shepherd, who recalled when she heard about her mother being reported missing and, shortly after, was informed her mother was dead.
Shepherd had just moved to Detroit where she was attending Wayne State University to earn a PhD. She never returned to graduate school because of the pending murder trial, which was cancelled at different times during the past year and a half.
The daughter became emotional on the stand Tuesday when she told the court how she had found out about her mother’s death. She was attending class when a police detective called, telling her that her mother’s body was found in the trunk of her car. She had bled to death due to a laceration to her neck.
Shepherd and her mother had been in touch with each other every day either by phone, e-mail or Facebook until 5:22 p.m. on Sept. 8, the last time they messaged each other.
Eichhorn, a probation officer at the Hannahville Indian Community, was also survived by a son, Caine Knaus, as well as a sister, a brother, her paternal grandmother and grandfather, and several other relatives and friends.
According to her obituary, “Jolene loved fishing, playing softball, traveling, gardening and working out. She was a very caring person who always put others ahead of herself.”
Photographs of Eichhorn posing with family members were entered as evidence during Tuesday’s court proceedings. Other evidence included a photograph of her body in the trunk of her car, her cell phone records from her final days, and a hunting knife found under Ihander’s mobile home five weeks after her death.
Joseph Linsmeier — who was hired to remove the mobile home that Ihander was renting at the time of Eichhorn’s death — had found the sheathed knife along with a hatchet in a plastic grocery bag under the trailer. The bag was inside an insulated box containing the water pump.
Linsmeier testified he thought the bag contained tools and threw it into the bed of his pickup truck. He later looked at the contents and found the knife, realizing it could be the missing murder weapon. He brought the items to a friend, Jeff Brunelle, the Menominee County Sheriff’s Department detective who participated in the murder investigation.
Brunelle, who also took the witness stand Tuesday, recalled when Linsmeier showed him the knife he found on Oct. 17, 2015. The detective explained that after he looked at the sheathed knife and hatchet, while wearing latex gloves, he brought the items to the sheriff’s evidence locker room to turn over to the Michigan State Police, the agency in charge of the murder investigation.
Brunelle also testified about the day Ihander was arrested at his residence.
While Brunelle was walking through Ihander’s home later in the day on Sept. 9, 2015, with Ihander and Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Jean Belanger, Brunelle found a plastic bag behind the bathtub shower curtain.
“When I opened it I saw a big black Hefty garbage bag that looked out of place,” Brunelle told jurors while he hesitantly explained what he saw when he untied the bag. “I saw items — kitchen items, sandals, rags… stained the color of red consistent with blood.”
Prior to Brunelle entering the bathroom, Ihander had asked Belanger to go outside with him.
After Brunelle opened the garbage bag, he went outside and made a hand-cuff gesture to Belanger to “let her know there was incriminating evidence inside,” he told the jury.
Ihander was immediately handcuffed and arrested.
Brunelle said he told Ihander while the suspect was being handcuffed, “We have a lot to talk about.”
Brunelle said Ihander responded, “Yes, we do.”
Ihander was charged with open murder and has been lodged in the county jail for the past 17 months in lieu of a $1 million bond.
Other witnesses who took the stand Tuesday included the sheriff’s deputy and the state trooper who found Eichhorn’s body in her vehicle. Additional sheriff’s personnel and state troopers testified along with the deputy medical examiner, a state police crime lab director, two marina workers, a Verizon representative, a funeral home director, and a towing service employee.
Witness testimony resumed today and included Brunelle, who was cross-examined by the defense attorney.
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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, firstname.lastname@example.org