Paul DeWolf was found dead in Ann Arbor, Mich., on July 24, 2013.
(Photo: D.C. Goings, AP)
DETROIT -- The first big break in the case came in the form of a single keystroke.
It had been more than two months since a popular University of Michigan medical student was shot to death, and police seemingly had few leads.
But on Oct. 3 - 45 miles from where student Paul DeWolf was killed in his Ann Arbor fraternity - a man in Detroit attempted to log onto a computer he'd just purchased through Craigslist. The man didn't know it, but the Mac laptop had been stolen from DeWolf's next-door neighbor around the time he was killed.
That computer had an app that would lead police directly to it, and to the two suspects now charged in DeWolf's killing.
In a court hearing earlier this month, Ann Arbor Police Detective Katie Nucci detailed for Judge Joseph Burke how investigators used the laptop to build their case against Shaquille Jones, 21, and Joei Jordan, 20.
Both men, who are charged with murder in DeWolf's death, are from South Carolina but have ties to Washtenaw County, where Ann Arbor is located.
Police also have identified a third suspect in DeWolf's slaying, but it remains unclear how he is tied to the case. He was not mentioned in Nucci's testimony.
Police officials have released few details of their investigation. But a transcript of the hearing obtained by the Detroit Free Press shows the case has been a combination of dogged detective work, luck and high-tech sleuthing.
In sworn testimony, Nucci said a computer that belonged to a University of Michigan senior was stolen from the living room in her home between 10:30 p.m. July 23 and 12:30 a.m. July 24. That's around the same time frame police say they believe DeWolf was killed in the basement of the Phi Rho Sigma house next door.
One of the senior's three roommates, who was alone in the home, recalled hearing someone downstairs around midnight. Also taken was a wallet and a tan Coach purse.
"She stated that she was not overly concerned at that time because she thought it was her roommate," Nucci said during the hearing. "We later determined her roommate did not get home until 12:30."
The senior had an application called "Find My Mac" on her computer and directed Apple to contact her if the computer connected to the Internet, the court document said.
On Oct. 3, Apple was alerted that the stolen Apple Air computer was turned on, and its contents were erased. Police traced the computer to a home in Detroit, and a man there said he got the computer from an Ypsilanti man through Craigslist.
The new owner, a 30-year-old man who asked not to be identified, told the Free Press he'd suspected the laptop was stolen because when he connected to the Internet, the screen locked. But the man who sold him the computer tried to help him with the password, so, he said, he thought perhaps it was locked by an ex-girlfriend.
Then the police showed up.
"I knew it was something more than a stolen laptop since Ann Arbor police came all the way here," he said.
Officers handcuffed him and began asking questions, he recalled. He said he wasn't worried because he knew he hadn't done anything wrong.
Authorities took the computer and his cellphone, which he said he offered to help with the investigation.
Police used it to identify the Ypsilanti man who sold the computer and learned that on July 25 - a day after DeWolf, 25, was discovered dead in his basement apartment - the Ypsilanti man bought the stolen computer from Jordan for $200.
Police followed the trail from the Ypsilanti man to Jordan's cousin, who confirmed Jordan and Jones were present when the computer was sold, the court record said.
Records show Jordan's cellphone was pinging off a tower near the home where the computer was stolen the night of the break-in, according to the court record.
Jones and Jordan sometimes lived together, Nucci told the judge. Jones was pulled over driving Jordan's vehicle on Aug. 4, while traveling back to South Carolina, she said.
Both men, who are in jail without bond, have been arraigned on murder and home invasion charges.
Police declined to discuss the role the stolen computer played in the investigation on Wednesday or what evidence investigators have linking the third man to the crime.
"It is counterproductive to discuss details at this point," said Ann Arbor Detective Lt. Robert Pfannes, noting the department provides information only through news releases.
Jordan's family has hired defense attorney David Goldstein of Ann Arbor. Goldstein said he was aware that police believe they can tie his client to the stolen computer, but he declined to discuss what defense he might present.
"It's way too early to talk about anything like that," he said.
Jones' attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
A preliminary exam - a hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to send Jones to trial - is scheduled for Dec. 5. Jordan faces a similar hearing Dec. 12.