Murder case bound over
By CLARISSA KELL
Escanaba Daily Press
MENOMINEE — A Bark River man, charged in the murder of his adoptive father, was bound over to Menominee County Circuit Court Friday morning.
District Court Judge Robert Jamo made his decision after weighing testimony, evidence and arguments provided in a preliminary hearing in Menominee County District Court Thursday.
On Thursday, Gary Paul Phillips-Donovan, 35, of 3071 D Road, Apt. 208, Bark River, remained mute as witnesses, including law enforcement officers and family members of the victim, provided testimony suggesting his involvement in the murder of his adoptive father, Michael Alan Donovan, 74.
Michael Donovan was found dead, with extensive blunt force trauma to the face and neck, in the detached garage of his home, located on Old U.S. 2 and 41 near Eustis Road in Harris Township, on Nov. 19, 2019. Phillips-Donovan was subsequently arrested and charged with the murder.
A forensic autopsy determined Michael Donovan died from blunt force trauma to the head and neck, and the death was homicide.
On Nov. 20, Phillips-Donovan was officially charged with one count of homicide – open murder, a felony punishable up to life in prison. Since the arraignment, two other counts — both home invasion – first degree — were added to his felony complaint.
“There’s clear, circumstantial evidence that … Gary Phillips-Donovan killed Michael Donovan,” said Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Gerald Karafa.
He explained sometimes there won’t be a smoking gun or eyewitnesses to a murder, but that doesn’t mean a person goes free.
Phillips-Donovan’s attorney, Randall Philipps, argued the evidence and testimony presented during the preliminary hearing was enough to prove a murder happened, but could not directly tie his client to the murder.
“What has been proven here today? What’s been proven is, is that a human being died. But we have no evidence of how that person died or who occasioned that death — one or more persons, but more particularly, whether or not that person was the defendant,” Philipps said.
For Michael Donovan and his wife, Patricia, Nov. 19 started out as a fairly normal day, except that one of their granddaughters, who lives with them, stayed home sick from school.
According to Patricia Donovan, she and her husband were sitting at their kitchen table at around 11:30 a.m., noon, when their granddaughter Carly Alexander, 9, came out and told them that “Uncle Gary” is in her and Patricia’s room going through the drawers where Patricia sometimes stores money. Both Patricia and Alexander spoke on how Michael Donovan got up and spoke loudly and sternly with Phillips-Donovan to never come to the house unannounced again.
According to Patricia, Phillips-Donovan, wearing all black clothing, left the house, then a few minutes later Michael got up to check on the garage to make sure Phillips-Donovan was not stealing anything.
After awhile, Patricia and Alexander walked to the garage to check on Michael. When Patricia found her husband lying on the garage floor with blunt force trauma to his face, she said she yelled for Alexander to go to the house to get her cellphone and walked to the other residence on the property to get her son Henry.
A shovel was found next to Michael Donovan’s body, however, Patricia recalled that Henry had moved it when he placed a towel underneath his head while she was on the phone with 911 dispatchers.
Michigan State Police Trooper Colin Immel was the trooper called to the victim’s home in Harris Township.
According to Immel, he had been dispatched to the residence for a possible domestic assault at around 12:35 p.m., and on his way he was advised that Michael was no longer breathing. When Immel arrived on scene, there were EMS and Hannahville Tribal Police officers already there.
A homicide investigation by the Michigan State Police began with Phillips-Donovan as the main suspect.
At around 2:08 p.m., dispatchers advised officers that a white truck driven by Phillips-Donovan was located at the Oasis gas station, near the Island Resort and Casino in Harris Township.
Trooper Kyle Kelley assisted Immel in pulling over the vehicle and getting the five individuals, including Phillips-Donovan, to exit it. Phillips-Donovan was taken into custody then, wearing different clothing than he was described as wearing earlier that day by his adoptive mother.
Kelley, who is also the K9 handler to K9 Wick, said after the arrest he had gone back to the crime scene to see if his K9 could find a human track. Upon finding a successful track, Kelley and Wick were led from the train tracks near the crime scene to across the highway to the detached garage of a residence on Hannahville B-1 Road in Wilson. The dog led Kelley to the woodstove within the garage, where a fire had been put out by Harris Township volunteer firefighters. The fire department had been called to the fire at 2:23 p.m.
Trooper Patrick Madden testified on collecting possible evidence — charred remains of possible clothing and a shoe — from the woodstove within the garage of the second crime scene.
The home was close to where Steven Lesperance had picked up Phillips-Donovan.
Sometime between 12:30 and 1:15 p.m., Lesperance said he came upon Phillips-Donovan walking along Hannahville B-1 Road and offered him a ride, something he noted that was common in Hannahville.
According to Lesperance, he knew Phillips-Donovan through helping out managing a sober living facility in Hannahville. He noted Phillips-Donovan acted normally, didn’t seem to have anything on him and did not seem disheveled while he drove him to the Elders Complex in Hannahville.
Detective Sgt. Jeremy Hauswirth, the lead investigator to the case, provided testimony regarding the three videos that were collected from a neighbor’s home and the nearby Bark River-Harris Public School.
The first of three video footages played during the preliminary examination, was from the school. The video, taken from a surveillance camera pointed toward the school’s front parking lot, showed a person in dark clothing walking along U.S. 2 and 41, crossing the highway towards Old U.S. 2 and 41, near the home of the victim at around 11:34 a.m. on Nov. 19.
The second video was provided by the next door neighbor of the Donovans.
The video, taken from a motion sensored camera on the bottom level of the apartment complex next door, showed a person in dark clothing leaving the Donovan home, crossing the street, then running into the woods at 12:04 p.m.
The third and final clip shown was from the school, as well.
The video, taken from the bus garage area, showed Lesperance’s truck slowing down and picking up Phillips-Donovan on Hannahville B-1 Road at 12:36 p.m.