Details emerge at accused killer’s court arraignment
CARO — Prosecutors say the man who shot and killed 41-year-old Shawn Andy Maxwell on Wednesday, March 1 at a home in Vassar Township also shot and killed a cat.
The suspect, Jeffrey Stephen Evans, of the Lapeer County village of Columbiaville, was arraigned Monday afternoon in Tuscola County District Court by Magistrate Joseph A. Van Auken.
Evans was captured on the night of Thursday, March 2, in Vassar, by Vassar Police Department officers, who seized a loaded handgun from him – though that weapon isn’t thought to have been used in the shootings.
The 41-year-old is charged with nine felonies in connection with the alleged homicide, and his capture. The most serious count – open murder – carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Evans also is charged with carrying a concealed weapon (five-year felony), third-degree torturing/killing an animal (four-year felony), two counts of assaulting/resisting/obstructing a police officer (two-year felony) and four counts of possession of a firearm while committing or attempting to commit a felony, also known as felony firearm (two-year felony).
An open charge of murder allows for a jury to decide on different alleged crimes should the case go to trial. A jury can find a defendant guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or a form of manslaughter. The difference between first- and second-degree murder is premeditation.
Michigan State Police officials released multiple press releases in connection with the homicide. On the morning of Thursday, March 2, the MSP announced the homicide, saying that it involved a shooting at a residence in the 4000 block of Kirk Road in Vassar Township.
At about 4 p.m. that day, it released a statement saying it was searching for Evans, a person of interest. At about 7:30 p.m., the MSP announced that Vassar police had taken Evans into custody in the city of Vassar. Evans was lodged in the Tuscola County Jail that night. Charges were authorized by the Tuscola County Prosecutor’s Office on Saturday.
“The Office of the Prosecuting Attorney wishes to recognize the extraordinary and coordinated investigative efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies, divisions and units,” Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark E. Reene said in a statement. “The assistance of local citizens was also critical in apprehending the defendant in this case, who was armed with a loaded handgun upon his arrest.”
At the Monday arraignment hearing, Evans appeared via video feed from the Tuscola County Jail. He was represented by attorney Geoffrey Stuart of the Assigned Counsel Office of Tuscola County, who said Evans’ case would be handled by attorney Bernard Jocuns. Tuscola County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Eric F. Wanink represented the state at the arraignment.
In a bond memorandum to Van Auken, Wanink outlined what the police investigation discovered.
Police allege the victim went to pick up Evans in Lapeer County and drove him back to the Kirk Road home because Evans needed a place to stay. A relative of the victim told police the relative had been in contact with the victim early on March 1, but had not been able to reach him on his cellular phone later in the day.
The relative went to the home and discovered that Maxwell, and a cat, had been shot and were deceased. The MSP previously reported that troopers were dispatched to the scene at about 11 p.m. on Wednesday, March 1.
The investigation uncovered shell casings inside the home, and the suspected murder weapon – an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle – was found on the property.
A neighbor told police he observed the victim and suspect arrive at the residence at about 4 p.m. on March 1.
The only information resembling a motive for the slaying was in one of the Thursday, March 2 MSP press releases, which stated the victim was shot several times “during an argument.”
A manhunt involving multiple local police departments and state police units was initiated. At about 7:30 p.m. March 2, Evans was apprehended by two members of the Vassar Police Department. The arrest was videorecorded by an onlooker, and the video can be viewed at The Advertiser’s Facebook page. The video shows two officers shout at Evans to get on the ground as he walks away from them down a snow-covered Vassar street.
After failing to obey orders for a few seconds, the suspect turns, gets on his knees and puts his hands in the air. He is handcuffed, and police seize a loaded handgun.
The identities of the Vassar police officers seen in the video aren’t clear, but the two officers named in the assaulting/resisting/obstructing counts are Vassar Sgt. Brian Westphal and Vassar Officer Matthew Piazza.
When the charges were filed Saturday, Van Auken set a $5 million cash bond for Evans. That bond was continued at the arraignment.
Wanink said during Monday’s arraignment hearing that Evans does not have much of a criminal record, but was convicted of impaired driving in 2016 in Lapeer County.
In his press release, Reene recognized multiple units for assisting with the investigation: Michigan Intelligence Operations Center; MSP Aviation Unit; MSP Bridgeport Forensic Laboratory; MSP Caro Post; MSP Computer Crimes Unit; MSP Emergency Support Team; MSP K9 Unit; MSP Saginaw Major Crimes Unit; MSP Technical Services Unit; MSP Third District Fugitive Team; MSP Third District Investigation Special Investigation Section; Thumb Narcotics Unit; Tuscola County Sheriff’s Office; and the Vassar Police Department.
At the end of the arraignment, Van Auken scheduled Evans’ next two court dates: a probable cause hearing at 8:15 a.m. on March 15, and a preliminary exam at 8:30 a.m. on March 22.