Escanaba open murder case on its way to circuit court
ESCANABA — Tavaris Jackson, the Escanaba man accused of murdering 22-year-old Harley Corwin and leaving her body in O.B. Fuller Park last month was bound over to circuit court Tuesday morning.
Jackson faces one count of open murder, a felony punishable by up to life in prison. He also faces one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, a two-year felony, and assault resulting in the death of a fetus, a felony punishable by up to life imprisonment.
“My job is to listen to the evidence and determine whether (there is) probable cause (that) indeed a felony was committed and this defendant committed it. In a jury trial, the burden of proof is much greater, it’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” 94th District Court Judge Steven Parks told the family members and friends of Corwin and Jackson present at the second day of Jackson’s preliminary examination Tuesday morning.
The second day of the hearing started out with testimony by law enforcement officers involved with the case.
Escanaba Public Safety Detective Todd Chouinard took part in the initial interrogation of Tavaris Jackson. Chouinard described to the court how he obtained security camera footage from Menards showing Jackson. Jackson can be seen entering the store with two children in one segment. In another, he is exiting the store with the children. One of the items in his shopping cart is a shovel.
Delta County Sheriff’s Office Detective Mike Groleau also testified about a map created using data from the Life360 app. The map shows a path from Escanaba to Cedar River, then to Fuller Park and back to Escanaba at Menards and Walmart.
Following the testimony and a brief recess, the prosecution and defense gave their final arguments.
Prosecutor Lauren Wickman presented a rough timeline of the case, which she said met the burden necessary for the court to find probable cause and bind the case over to circuit court for a possible trial. The timeline was corroborated by data from Life360, a real-time GPS tracking application that Corwin had installed on her phone.
According to Wickman’s interpretation of the evidence and testimony presented in court, Jackson and Corwin’s day on July 3 began with them both being at the apartment of Chloe Benevides, whom Jackson — who also believed himself to be the father of Corwin’s unborn son — had described as his girlfriend at multiple times during police interviews.
The three ultimately separated shortly before 11 a.m., but Corwin later informed Benevides that she and Jackson would be meeting up at the Escanaba Municipal Beach. While at the beach, around 11:20 a.m., Corwin sent Benevides an audio file that appeared to be Corwin and Jackson talking about Jackson’s relationship with Benevides while inside his truck. Jackson and Corwin then went to Jackson’s home, where Corwin sent photos of Jackson to Benevides.
Jackson and Corwin were then seen on surveillance camera footage at The Store gas station shortly before 1 p.m. They left the gas station headed south on M-35, presumably headed to a prenatal appointment in Green Bay, Wis., but turned around before Cedar River as the appointment was cancelled.
Jackson then drove into O.B. Fuller Park. During the stop, Corwin posted photos of Jackson’s back and the ground at the park to her Snapchat “Story,” a function of the social media application that allows users to share photos chronologically.
Life360 tracking showed Corwin as being at the park, unmoving, for at least an hour and a half, between 1:37 and 3:40 p.m.
After that time, Life360 appeared to be tracking Jackson instead of Corwin. It showed him traveling to Menards, where he could be seen on surveillance footage with his children, wearing different clothing, and buying a shovel. It later showed him going to Walmart. Corwin was not seen on any security camera footage recovered from either store.
Life360 tracking abruptly ended around 7:10 p.m. that night. Testimony given by law enforcement Monday suggested the phone’s battery may have died.
On July 8, while Escanaba Public Safety was investigating Corwin’s disappearance as a missing person case, Corwin’s friend gave the Life360 data to police. The information led them to O.B. Fuller Park, where Corwin’s body was found about 100 yards from a two-track road and covered with grass.
Corwin had been shot twice in the head, with one shot entering from the back of the head and the other from the front. There was no apparent injury to the fetus, suggesting it died as a result of Corwin’s death and not due to any other trauma.
Jackson was arrested not long after the discovery of the body and interrogated. Wickman said his story given during the interrogation was “inconsistent, and frankly, convient.”
“As he received more information, the defendant’s story morphed to try to fit the pattern that was being told to him,” she said. “It started out as a very simple five- to ten-minute car ride around town and ultimately ended with his statements to Det. Baril that yes, he did drive to The Store gas station, drive south on M-35, turn around north of Cedar River, pulling into O.B. Fuller Park — specifically, on the west side of O.B. Fuller Park as documented in that map — sitting in the car with Harley for approximately an hour, within approximately 100 yards of where the body was ultimately found.”
Jackson’s court-appointed attorney, Diane Kay-Hougaboom, argued that it was clear Jackson and Corwin had been together on July 3, but it was not apparent that Jackson had killed Corwin based on the available evidence. She also argued the added charges related to a gun and the death of Corwin’s fetus were unfounded.
Kay-Hougaboom said the defense was sympathetic to Corwin’s family, but that the court must divorce itself from any emotional reasoning and review the case as if it were any other crime.
“If we looked at this case in the same way that we looked at a case where if, say, a pile of methamphetamine was found in the woods, all right? And we had no data or no information to tell us when that methamphetamine was put there or by whom, and then we have evidence that my client was in the woods in a similar location at some point, that would not be nearly enough to bind my client over for possession of that methamphetamine,” she said.
Key to Kay-Hougaboom’s arguments were that witnesses had testified to receiving messages sent from Corwin’s phone on July 5, which was purportedly password protected, and that the medical examiner could not give a precise time of death — just that the death happened “on or around July 4,” the day after the Life360 information placed Corwin and Jackson at the park.
“We have, a full two days after the State says that this awful incident happened/my client is the perpetrator, contact from Ms. Corwin,” she said.
She also said Corwin’s phone and the gun used to kill Corwin have never been recovered.
“It is a circumstantial evidence case and cases are proved across the nation every day on circumstantial evidence alone,” said Parks.
Despite the arguments from the defense, Parks bound Jackson over on the murder charge and the two additional charges, which were requested by Wickman Tuesday. He said it was not necessary at this point in the case for a definitive time of death to be presented; that a gun was clearly used to commit the murder, as bullets were removed from the ground; and that homicide of the mother was the likely cause of the fetus’ death.