Chelsea Bruck murder case: Trial begins; mother takes the stand

Daniel Clay charged in connection to Chelsea Bruck's 2014 murder

MONROE COUNTY, Mich. – The Chelsea Bruck murder trial began Tuesday, nearly two and a half years after she disappeared from a Halloween party in Frenchtown Township.

A jury was seated Monday the man accused of killing 22-year-old Chelsea Bruck in 2014. Her disappearance prompted searches across several counties. Her remains were found a year later in Ash Township.

Daniel Clay, 27 of Newport, is charged with second-degree murder in connection with Bruck’s death. According to authorities, Clay was linked to the death with DNA evidence obtained by Michigan State Police.

Fifteen witnesses testified during a preliminary hearing in November. The prosecution first called Michael Williams to the stand. He threw the Halloween party where Bruck was last seen. More than 600 people were in attendance at William’s annual event.

READ BACK: 15 witnesses testify in Chelsea Bruck murder case

Trial begins

The prosecutor gave his opening statements to jury, detailing the night in question.

He described the state’s case and the evidence against Clay.

He also described how Bruck’s body was found in Ash Township.

The attorney for the defense began his opening statement telling the jury that nothing in the opening statements should be considered evidence.

He said this is going to be a long trail.

The defense said the case is tragic, but that Clay didn’t “murder” Bruck, giving the jury the legal definitions of murder, homicide and manslaughter.

Mother takes the stand

Following the opening statements from the prosecution and defense, Leanda Bruck, Chelsea's mother, was the first witness called to the stand.

The series of questioning directed at Leanda Bruck first centered around Chelsea's personal behavior taking care of her belongings, specifically her clothing. She testified Chelsea was careful with her clothing, especially the costume she had been wearing the night she disappeared.

Leanda Bruck described the Halloween costume which she said Chelsea spent nearly 6 weeks making -- a green leotard with leaves individually attached -- in the hopes of winning a prize at the party. Photos and pieces of the costume were brought to the jury's attention with objection from the defense.

She outlined the day of her daughter's disappearance, noting Chelsea's mood as "happy" and "excited" to show off the costume. Leanda Bruck said she was initially not concerned when she had not yet seen Chelsea the following morning, as she assumed Chelsea was asleep upstairs. Later that evening, she discovered Chelsea was not home.

She described the steps she went through to locate Chelsea between the evening of the party and April 2015, when a shoe was found matching the description of Chelsea's.

October 2014

Bruck was last seen Oct. 25, 2014 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 her. 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.

Clay arrested in July 2016

After an exhaustive investigation over nearly two years, 27-year-old Daniel Clay was taken into custody July 22, 2016.

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.

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.

Timeline of events

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, 2014: Bruck's family, friends continue search

Nov. 2, 2014: Chelsea Bruck case: Police search for guards
Police searched for the security guards who were hired for the party.

Nov. 4, 2014: More info sought from party goers about missing Chelsea Bruck

Nov. 12, 2014: Reward now $5,000 in Chelsea Bruck case

Nov. 17, 2014: Chelsea Bruck's family appeals for help

Nov. 24, 2014: 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, 2015: 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, 2015: Helicopter, K9 search for Chelsea Bruck in Flat Rock

April 8, 2015: Family of missing Monroe County woman awaits information from police

April 24, 2015: 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, 2015: 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.

Nov. 2, 2016: 15 witnesses testify in Chelsea Bruck murder case
Fifteen witnesses testified during a preliminary hearing for Daniel Clay.

Sign up for ClickOnDetroit breaking news alerts and email newsletters