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Prosecutors build motive for murder in Bashara case

September 10, 2013

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Renee Cooper, one of the public defenders handling the murder case against Robert Bashara, shakes his client’s hand as Bashara is led into court by Wayne County Sheriff’s Department deputies for the first day of his preliminary examination Sept. 9.
36th District Court Judge Kenneth King hears testimony during a preliminary examination for Bashara at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit.

DETROIT — A troubled marriage and a hidden gun were two of the revelations prosecutors brought forward during the first day of murder defendant Robert “Bob” Bashara’s preliminary examination Sept. 9.

Bashara — who has been charged with hiring former handyman Joseph Gentz to kill his wife, Jane Bashara, in January 2012 — listened as witnesses, including his mother, Nancy Bashara, offered testimony on the first of what was expected to be a five-day-long hearing, which took place at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in front of 36th District Court Judge Kenneth King.

Bob Bashara has insisted he had nothing to do with his wife’s murder, but prosecutors appear to be making the case that the Grosse Pointe Park businessman had motive to want to get out of his 26-year marriage to start anew with another woman.

William F. McQueen Jr., the first witness, told the court about a heated argument he witnessed between Bob Bashara and his wife on Jan. 22, 2012 — just two days before Jane Bashara was murdered. McQueen said he and Jane Bashara were reconciling receipts from church collections in the counting office of the church the Bashara family attended, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Grosse Pointe Woods. McQueen and Jane Bashara were supposed to be the only ones in the church counting room that day, McQueen said, but about midway through the process, Bob Bashara entered the room and stood close to Jane. Although McQueen said he “couldn’t make any sense of the discussion” between the couple, it was apparent that it was an argument, and McQueen eventually asked Bob Bashara to leave.

“They started into a very volatile, heated discussion, which lasted about, I would say, 10 minutes,” McQueen said.

Stephanie Samuel — Bob Bashara’s first cousin and someone who had been a staunch supporter in the early days of the investigation — broke down on the witness stand as she recounted seeing a handgun belonging to Bob Bashara inside a safety deposit box owned by Nancy Bashara, and for which only Bob and Nancy had keys. Samuel said she, Nancy Bashara and Bob Bashara’s sister, Laura — who was visiting from California — went to Nancy Bashara’s bank at Nancy’s request on July 6, 2012, after Nancy said she discovered the gun inside a bag of family coins and jewelry she said her son had asked her to place inside the safety deposit box for safe-keeping that March. Bank records obtained by prosecutors show that no one other than Nancy Bashara checked on the box between March and July 2012.

Samuel — who said her cousin had said he only kept a BB gun “to scare squirrels in the backyard” — was as shocked as Nancy Bashara to see the weapon.

“I said we cannot leave this (gun) here,” Samuel recalled. “We have to take it back home with us. We have to talk to (Bob Bashara’s former) lawyer (David Griem).”

Bob Bashara was in police custody at that time, facing charges in connection with an attempt to hire a hit man to kill Gentz in jail.

At a meeting the family already had with Griem at Bob Bashara’s home on Middlesex in Grosse Pointe Park July 7, 2012, she said they showed Griem the weapon and handed it over to him, and Samuel said Griem told the family he’d “take care of it.” She said she wasn’t trying to conceal possible evidence in the case.

“At the end of the day, it was not my choice” to not bring the gun to police, Samuel said.

“He’s an officer of the court,” Samuel said of Griem. “I believed I was doing the right thing.”

Griem is said to have kept the weapon in a locked room at his office, inside a desk drawer, where it was recovered by police on Sept. 4, 2013, according to testimony from Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Twana Powell, who testified that she and several other law enforcement officers retrieved the weapon — a 32-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver — that day.

Griem confirmed by phone that he had spoken with a very upset Nancy Bashara and met the family at the Middlesex home.

“She was hysterical,” he said of Nancy Bashara. “She didn’t know what to do with the gun. She asked me if I would take possession of it, and I did.”

Griem said he then “immediately consulted with two of the better-known and most respected attorneys in Detroit about what to do,” speaking with them independently. He said they both gave him the same advice, which he followed. That included carefully maintaining the weapon, making sure that it was safe and also making sure that no one touched it so that if it “was of evidentiary value,” that evidence would be preserved.

Griem said Kenneth Mogill, one of the attorneys he consulted, contacted prosecutors about the gun.

“We turned the gun over to the Prosecutor’s Office,” Griem said. “I really can’t say more because of attorney-client privilege. (But) we did everything by the book, by the rules.”

This August, while attempting to clear out some old files belonging to Bob and Jane Bashara that her cousin had asked her to remove from his former home, Samuel said she found a box of bullets hidden among the reams of bills and other family paperwork. According to a photo entered into evidence by prosecutors, they were Smith and Wesson 32-caliber bullets. Samuel said she turned the bullets over to Windsor police, who then turned the bullets over to metro Detroit law enforcement.

Samuel fought tears as she recounted confronting Bob Bashara — a man she said was more like a big brother than a cousin to her — with media reports of alleged infidelity.

“I stood up and said, ‘Are you having an affair?’” Samuel said. “He said no.”

At least one alleged mistress, Rachel Gillett, has publicly come forward, although Renee Cooper, one of Bob Bashara’s defense attorneys, objected to prosecutors suggesting that Bob Bashara had seen more than one woman outside of his marriage.

Samuel and Nancy Bashara both also testified that Bob Bashara had asked to use their cellphones. Prosecutors have presented the court with evidence that someone — allegedly Bob Bashara — used those phones to contact a woman in Oregon that Bob Bashara and Gillett were reportedly planning to bring into their relationship. Samuel specifically testified that she doesn’t know anyone in Oregon and wouldn’t have made any calls to that state.

Robert John Godard Jr., who said he was a friend and business associate of Bob Bashara’s for about 20 years, said Bob Bashara introduced Godard to the “alternative lifestyle … (of) BDSM,” and said he was familiar with “the dungeon” Bob Bashara maintained “in the basement underneath some businesses that he owned” in Grosse Pointe Park. Godard said Bob Bashara “cared for (Gillett) very much.” Gillett was reportedly involved in Bob Bashara’s alleged “alternative lifestyle,” but Jane Bashara wouldn’t participate in it, Godard said. Godard also alleged that Bob Bashara had been romantically involved with other women before Gillett.

Circa October 2011, Godard said Bob Bashara told him he and Gillett “were going to buy a home together and make a life together.” However, he said Bob Bashara made no mention of divorce, despite the fact that “I knew they were not doing very well as a couple. … I knew they were unhappy,” Godard said of Bob and Jane Bashara.

Godard testified that Bob Bashara had asked him if he knew someone who could “put a hurt” on someone, supposedly a troublesome tenant at one of Bob Bashara’s rental properties.

“I was a little shocked by it. … I (told him) I didn’t know anybody” who could do that, Godard said.

Patricia Matthews, who said she had been Jane Bashara’s best friend since they were 15, also testified to strife in the couple’s marriage. Jane Bashara had confided in Matthews, Matthews testified, about Bob Bashara’s alleged flirting with other women, erectile dysfunction and pornography habit, as well as the couple’s fights about finances.

“She always said that Bob always lies. … She couldn’t count on what he said, and she couldn’t count on him with money,” Matthews said.

Jane Bashara, a marketing executive, “was the big breadwinner in the family,” Matthews testified.

In spite of this, she said Jane Bashara was determined to make the marriage work, even though Matthews said her friend told her that Bob Bashara wanted out of the union. Shortly before her friend’s murder, just before Christmas 2011, Matthews said Bob Bashara told Matthews he wouldn’t be able to attend a New Year’s Eve party because he was going to a golf outing in Florida with a mutual male associate. Matthews said she later contacted that associate, who said he hadn’t seen Bob Bashara in three years, although Bashara asked the man to “cover” for him if Jane Bashara called.

During the first day of the hearing, Bob Bashara’s attorneys declined opportunities to question witnesses brought forward by prosecutors. The hearing was expected to continue Sept. 10.

Bob Bashara’s preliminary exam was delayed for several hours Monday after a suspect facing arraignment for armed robbery reportedly used a sharpened plastic comb to stab a sheriff’s deputy and escape wearing part of the deputy’s uniform, according to Detroit Police Chief James Craig and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. Napoleon told reporters that the incident took place between 8:15-8:30 a.m. while the deputy, who was alone and, as per department policy, unarmed, was transporting three prisoners — including his alleged attacker — into a cell.

“It was very quick,” said Napoleon, telling reporters that the deputy wasn’t seriously injured.

The suspect then reportedly carjacked a woman outside the court as he made his escape, Napoleon and Craig said. That vehicle was recovered abandoned in the area of Lafayette and Concorde, Craig said.

The Frank Murphy building was evacuated and placed on lockdown for hours as police investigated and conducted an extensive search for the suspect, who was eventually located at a home in Detroit.

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