15 witnesses testify Wednesday in Chelsea Bruck murder case

Daniel Clay charged with second-degree murder in connection with Bruck's death

By Priya Mann - Reporter , John Steckroth - Editor , Derick Hutchinson

MONROE COUNTY, Mich. - A 27-year-old Newport man was in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing in the slaying of Chelsea Bruck and an unrelated home invasion.

Daniel Clay is charged with second-degree murder in connection with Bruck’s death. He is also charged with home invasion and first-degree criminal sexual conduct that allegedly occurred June 9 in Monroe.

Bruck disappeared from a Halloween party in Frenchtown Township in 2014, prompting searches across several counties. Her remains were found a year later in Ash Township.

According to authorities, Clay was linked to the death with DNA evidence obtained by Michigan State Police.

Preliminary hearing

Priya Mann was in court providing updates, and she will continue to give live reports on Local 4 News all day.

The prosecution first called Michael Williams to the stand. He threw the Halloween party where Bruck was last seen. Over 600 people were in attendance of William’s annual event.

The party started at noon and ended at about 6 a.m.

Williams said he knew many of the people at the party, but didn’t know Bruck.


The second witness was Laura Taylor. Taylor worked with Bruck at Olga’s restaurant. She told the court that she gave Bruck a ride to the party and that Bruck left her cell phone in the vehicle. 

Taylor said Bruck had made her "Poison Ivy" costume.

The defense asked Taylor if Bruck had brought a large bottle of wine and Taylor confirmed that she was carrying it with her and was drinking from it. She also said that Bruck didn't use drugs.


Bruck’s friend, Penny Renee Watkins, was the third witness to take the stand.

Watkins told the court that Bruck was distracted during the evening and injured herself walking. She said Bruck struck the bridge of her nose when she walked into a wooden structure. Watkins said she gave Bruck a few sips of vodka after she hit her nose, and some prior to the injury.

She said that Bruck was last seen in the parking lot with an unknown man. She also said that she got a call from Bruck from an unknown number at about 2:30 a.m. asking for a ride home. Watkins was already home and said she was in “no condition to drive.”

The defense asked again about the wine Bruck was drinking and Watkins said it appeared that Bruck had drank very little of it.

She also said there was a large parking area with attendants, where Bruck was last seen with an unknown man.


Rebecca Brinson, the fourth witness to take the stand, worked with Bruck. She said they hung out three to four times a week.

Brinson said she got to the party at about 10 p.m. and that Bruck was carrying a bottle of wine labeled “Poison.”

The defense brought up Bruck’s sex life and the prosecution argued that it wasn’t relevant. The defense argued that such information is crucial to their case. The judge granted the defense latitude. The defense asked if Bruck like rough sex and if she enjoyed being choked. Brinson said no. The defense asked if Bruck was promiscuous. The judge said rough sex may be relevant, but sexual history was not.


Jessica Evay Pribyl was the fifth witness. She was a friend and co-worker of Bruck’s, and her and Clay have a 6-year-old child together.

Pribyl said Clay called her after his arrest and left her two messages. The first said that he was extremely sorry and to tell their son that he loves him. He also indicated that he messed up. She said that Clay was crying during the second message.


Monroe County Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Fauver was the sixth witness to take the stand during the preliminary hearing. He responded to the missing person’s report.

Bruck’s mother filed the report. She gave Bruck’s phone to Fauver.

Fauver talked about his initial investigation. He used the cell phone to make contact with friends and talked to people who saw Bruck at the party.


Detective Bryan Sroka took the stand and discussed his involvement as the lead detective on the case.

Sroka said roughly 70 agencies were involved in the investigation. He said that Bruck’s shoe was the first piece of evidence found in a ditch 2.3 miles from the party in the spring of 2015. The eighth witness was called to the stand, but Sroka was called back to answer more questions.

When he returned, he said the "big break" in the case came when there was DNA match to Clay. Prior to the match, Clay’s name had not come up at that point.

Sroka said a dozen officers conducted surveillance on Clay’s home and when they knocked on door, Clay ran out the back. He said that when presented with the DNA evidence, Clay said they had sexual relations and that he choked Bruck with his hands. Sroka said Clay told authorities he carried her body into a wooded area.


The eighth witness to take the stand was John Henry Marcon, the man who owns the property where Bruck’s body was found.

Marcon told the court the property was rural and was under development. The property runs along a set of railroad tracks.

The body was discovered while Marcon was leveling the property and adding fill.

Marcon said he was on the phone with his wife when he found the body and told her, “I just found somebody. I’ve got to let you go. I have to call the police.”


Detective Jeff Smith was the ninth witness to take the stand. The prosecution asked Smith if he had interviewed Brinson and he answered in the affirmative.

The defense asked about the purpose of the interview and the contents. Brinson had previously testified that she had not told police that Bruck enjoyed rough sex and being choked. Smith contradicted those statements and said that his notes from that interview indicated that Brinson did say those things.


Sarah Barr, a forensic analyst with the Michigan State Police Laboratory, was called to take the stand to discuss the DNA match. Barr examined the “Poison Ivy” costume and said the shoulder strap and crotch panel was torn.

Barr said blood was collected from the costume, as well as skin cells.

Those samples were passed on to analysts to perform a DNA analysis..


Jennifer Dillon, a forensic scientist with the Michigan State Police, was the 11th witness to take the stand.

Dillon performed the DNA analysis on the samples Barr collected. She obtained a DNA profile from the samples. Those samples were passed on to interpreters.

The defense asked about the evidence chain of custody and how the samples were stored.


Andrea Halvorson Young, a forensic scientist with the Michigan State Police, was called to take the stand to discuss the DNA match.

Young discussed the results of the DNA profile matches through the database.

“Both Chelsea Bruck and Daniel Clay could not be excluded as being contributors to the DNA from the leotard,” Young said.


Jennifer Rizk, a supervisor in the trace evidence unit and forensic scientist with the Michigan State Police, was the 13th witness to take the stand.

Rizk examined the leotard that was used to make the costume. She authored a report numbering the leaves that were missing from the costume.

A leaf that was recovered from where Bruck’s body was found matched the costume. She also discussed the tearing of the costume.


Dr. Leigh Hlavaty, deputy chief medical examiner in Wayne County, was the 14th witness to take the stand.

Hlavaty said she conducted a postmortem examination of Bruck's body on April 25, 2015, at the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office. She said she followed the standard procedure for cases of this type.

She said she found fractures on Bruck's face and head, and talked about the specific fractures near the nose, eyes and jaw. She said there were also two chipped or broken teeth.

Hlavaty said the condition of the body was what they would expect of a body that had been exposed through decomposition or scavenging of animals.

She said Bruck's body was found partially under logs and that, "in theory, the fallen log could cause fractures, but I don't believe the log caused the injuries."

Bruck walked into a pole during the party and hit her nose, but Hlavaty said that injury could not account for the facial fractures.

Hlavaty said it would take 20-30 seconds for a person to lose consciousness if being choked during rough sex. She said it takes two to two-and-a-half more minutes of constant pressure to die by strangulation.


Michael Preadmore, a detective of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, was the 15th witness to take the stand. Preadmore said he has been with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office for almost 14 years and he has been a detective for two years, including during the time of Bruck's missing person report.

Preadmore said when an interview began with Clay, Clay claimed he didn't know anything about Bruck being missing or of her death. Preadmore agreed that during the course of the interview, Clay's position continued to evolve until he, at some point, said he had been outside the party with Bruck and that she had died during sexual intercourse. Preadmore said Clay claimed Bruck wanted him to choke and slap her.

Preadmore said that Clay described while he and Chelsea were having sexual intercourse in the back seat of his vehicle, it got rough and she went limp.

According to Preadmore, Clay said he panicked, drove around and ended up in the Briar Hill area. Clay said he sat and cried for 20 minutes and didn't know what to do.

After his arrest, Clay allegedly made a few calls and reportedly said, "I killed her and dumped the body."


What happened

Bruck’s disappearance after the Halloween party prompted a massive search across southeast Michigan. She was last seen wearing a “Poison Ivy” costume consisting of black pants and a green leafed covered top.

The family of the 22-year-old pleaded for help finding Bruck. Flyers were put up by the community and a ground search intensified.

Her Halloween costume was found six months later at an industrial site. Her body was found in a wooded area near train tracks April 24, 2015.

Dental records were used to confirm the remains belonged to Bruck, and investigators said evidence at the scene indicated a homicide. The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office later ruled her death a homicide, saying she died from blunt force trauma to the head.

The arrest

After an exhaustive investigation over nearly two years, 27-year-old Daniel Clay was taken into custody July 22.

According to a criminal background check, Clay has misdemeanor convictions for possessing controlled substances, breaking and entering, assault, and assaulting/resisting a police officer. He was also arrested in May in the theft of tattoo equipment.

DNA collected from Clay in prior arrests by Michigan State Police allegedly matched DNA found on Bruck’s Halloween costume.

Clay’s home was placed under surveillance and he was taken into custody where he was initially interviewed.

“During the interview, detectives obtained details that only the killer would have known as this information had never been disseminated to the public,” Monroe County Sheriff Dale Malone said.

Clay arraigned

At his arraignment in July, Clay told the judge he didn’t want a bond.

“I don’t want a bond. I’m not even going to ask for one,” Clay told the judge.

Clay asked for a court-appointed attorney, and the judge granted the request for a competency exam. He was found competent to stand trial in August.

Girlfriend of suspect says he confessed to her

Kelli Richter told Local 4 that her boyfriend, the suspect, called her from jail after his arrest and confessed to her.

“He told me that he did it,” Richter said. “I told him no to lie to me and that I wanted the truth, and if you love me, tell me the truth, and he told me he did it on accident.”

Clay had just recently moved to the Frenchtown Villa mobile home park with Richter.

Richter said her boyfriend told her over the phone call he accidentally strangled Bruck.

Timeline

Oct. 26, 2014: Chelsea Bruck vanishes from Halloween party in Monroe County
Bruck went missing on a Saturday night during a party on Post Road in Frenchtown Township. She was last seen wearing a Poison Ivy costume consisting of black pants and a leaf-covered top.

Oct. 29: Bruck's family, friends continue search

Nov. 2: Chelsea Bruck case: Police search for guards
Police searched for the security guards who were hired for the party.

Nov. 4: More info sought from party goers about missing Chelsea Bruck

Nov. 12: Reward now $5,000 in Chelsea Bruck case

Nov. 17: Chelsea Bruck's family appeals for help

Nov. 24: Reward grows to more than $17,000 in case of missing Chelsea Bruck

March 19, 2015: Authorities search Michigan game area for missing Chelsea Bruck
Dozens of law enforcement officers searched Pointe Mouillee Game Area in southeastern Michigan amid an effort to find Bruck.

April 5: New clue in missing Chelsea Bruck case
Police said they found what they believed to be a portion of Bruck's costume in the area of Peters Road and Vreeland in Flat Rock.

April 6: Helicopter, K9 search for Chelsea Bruck in Flat Rock

April 8: Family of missing Monroe County woman awaits information from police

April 24: Construction workers find body in rural Monroe County
Construction workers found the body around 2 p.m. Friday in a wooded area near train tracks in the village of Carleton. Officers from the Michigan State Police Crime Lab and Monroe County Sheriff's deputies arrived at the scene.

The construction crew was doing excavation work on a piece of property where a man is planning to build a house. The crew discovered the body while checking on a piece of equipment, police said.

April 25: Remains found in Monroe County identified as Chelsea Bruck
Dental records were used to confirm the remains belonged to Bruck, and investigators Saturday said evidence at the scene indicated a homicide.

June 9, 2016: Witness comes forward after pictures released in connection to Chelsea Bruck case
After the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office released photos of a person who was at the party and may have had information, the witness made contact with authorities.

July 22, 2016: Monroe County Sheriff: 27-year-old Newport man in custody in Chelsea Bruck case
After an exhaustive investigation over nearly two years, a 27-year-old Newport man was taken into custody.

July 25, 2016: Suspect in Chelsea Bruck slaying: 'I don't want a bond'
At Daniel Clay's arraignment, he told the judge he didn't want a bond.

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