Ihander murder trial: Attorney questions police procedure

Murder suspect Gregory Scott Ihander, at left, and his attorneys Karen Groenhout and Alex Sieminski listen in court Tuesday to the undercover audio recording of Ihander’s initial interview with police on Sept. 9, 2015, after Jolene Eichhorn’s body was found in Menominee County. (Daily Press photo by Jenny Lancour)

MENOMINEE — Police procedure during the 2015 arrest of murder suspect Gregory Scott Ihander was questioned by his attorney Tuesday when she cross-examined the lead detective who investigated the death of 43-year-old Jolene Eichhorn.

Eichhorn’s body was found in her car trunk on Sept. 9, 2015, in Menominee County. Further investigation that same day led to the arrest of Ihander at his home after police found a bag of bloody items in his bath tub.

During Ihander’s trial Tuesday in Menominee County Circuit Court, an audio recording was presented, made undercover by police when Det. Sgt. Jean Belanger of the Michigan State Police Post in Gladstone initially interviewed Ihander at his home.

Defense Attorney Karen Groenhout used the recording on behalf of her client and questioned Belanger on what she did and did not say when she relied on another detective’s advice to go ahead and arrest Ihander.

After Ihander signed a consent form for police to search his home and vehicles, Menominee County Sheriff’s Det. Jeff Brunelle found a bag of bloody items in Ihander’s home. Belanger was outside talking with Ihander when Brunelle motioned to her to cuff him.

“I knew he found incriminating evidence inside,” Belanger stated during her cross-examination.

Belanger said she trusted that Brunelle’s evidence was credible, adding that it’s not uncommon to take “enforcement action” based on another officer’s information.

Groenhout said, in order for an arrest to be valid, the arresting officer must have knowledge that a crime was committed. The attorney also noted that if Belanger falsely arrested her client, the case will be dismissed.

Belanger testified that prior to Brunelle motioning her to arrest Ihander, the suspect was telling her, “You’re going to find something in there and I want to tell you about it. I want to tell you everything.”

Ihander and Belanger had just came from inside his house where he had grasped the detective’s arm and told her he wanted to talk to her in private.

“He became nervous, excited. His breathing became rapid. There was a noticeable change in his behavior,” testified Belanger, recalling how the hair on her neck stood up when Ihander said he wanted to talk to her.

During Belanger’s cross-examination, Groenhout also questioned testimony she made in prior court hearings which contradicted what she recently testified regarding Ihander’s arrest.

Belanger admitted she may have made a mistake in the police report she filed. The detective said she got the sequence of events confused, but not the events regarding what happened prior to Ihander’s arrest.

During Belanger’s cross-examination on Tuesday, Groenhout also disputed an expert’s analysis of Ihander’s cell phone records from Sept. 8 and 9, 2015, prior to Eichhorn’s body being found.

Groenhout accused police of selectively mapping out cell phone connections that would support their case and did not include “pings” that showed geographic locations as far away as 200 miles, including coordinates out of state.

Groenhout also questioned Belanger about potential evidence that was never collected and tested such as Ihander’s leg brace, which the attorney said was the one thing he would have been wearing at the time of the crime. He was recovering from knee surgery.

The defense attorney also questioned why police did not interview possible other suspects or witnesses such as Ihander’s brother, Kevin Ihander, who Groenhout said had a criminal history. Witnesses had also brought up the brother’s name when they were asked by police who might have helped Ihander.

Belanger said police never talked to Kevin Ihander because he was not a suspect and it was never necessary to investigate his criminal history.

“The evidence spoke for itself,” added Belanger.

Other concerns expressed by Groenhout included the validity of a search warrant to confiscate Ihander’s clothes when he was booked at the jail, police publicly releasing Ihander’s name as a suspect in the case prior to an arrest warrant being authorized, and police failing to provide more known DNA samples of other persons of interest as requested by the forensic lab.

Groenhout also questioned why the handle of the suspect murder weapon — a hunting knife — was never processed for DNA evidence. DNA analysis revealed Eichhorn’s blood on the blade of the knife, which was found in a sheath with a hatchet under Ihander’s mobile home five weeks after his arrest.

Ihander’s trial began last week and has since included testimony from several witnesses, as well as several pieces of evidence from Ihander’s home and Eichhorn’s car, which was found abandoned at the Cedar River Harbor Marina.

Prosecutor William Merkel presented more evidence in court on Tuesday while Belanger testified on every date involved in the chain of custody on evidence. The process was speeded up after Judge Mary Barglind conferred with Merkel and Groenhout to consider accepting the chain of custody for remaining evidence.

Prior to Belanger testifying Tuesday, a forensic analyst presented her results on the study of blood stain patterns on various evidence including Eichhorn’s clothes, Ihander’s kitchen flooring under the stove, and a pair of bloody sandals that were inside the bag found in Ihander’s tub.

Jennifer Patchin, of the Michigan State Police Forensic Laboratory in downstate Grayling, testified the size, shape, distribution and location of blood on evidence showed that Eichhorn’s blood had projected out under pressure when her carotid artery was severed.