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Officer: ‘It was odd’ to see suspects in parking lot

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Bloomfield Hills — A preliminary exam for two men charged in the Dec. 9 slaying of a West Bloomfield mother found in the trunk of her torched car was adjourned Friday until next month following a day of testimony in 48th District Court.

Desean Smith

Desean Maurice Smith, 18, of Detroit and Jaylen Stringer, 19, of West Bloomfield Township both face charges in the death of Diana Pesserl, 31.

District Judge Diane Dickow D’Agostini heard several hours of testimony Friday from multiple witnesses to help her determine if both should stand trial in the killing. She denied a request from Smith’s attorney that his client be evaluated for mental competency.

Jaylen Stringer

West Bloomfield Police Officer Zena Dailey testified she interviewed both suspects at a boat launch less than a mile from the shuttered Pine Lake Elementary school and within a half hour after the burning 2007 Hyundai Sonota was discovered.

That incident — and knowing the suspects’ identities — later led to their arrests.

“I thought it was odd,” Dailey said, recalling seeing the pair standing outside a car about 2 a.m. on Dec. 9. “...Smith said Jaylen had to use the bathroom, and Jaylen said he wanted to show Smith the lake.”

The officer said Smith appeared particularly nervous and eager to leave the launch parking lot. Dailey said she photographed tiretrack and footprints outside of their car which matched up with those at the fire scene.

Diana Pesserl

Police visited the Stringer home and found a .38-caliber handgun hidden inside a heating vent.

Among other testimony Friday:

■ A medical examiner testified an autopsy showed Pesserl died from a single gunshot wound to the abdomen that severed her aorta and likely caused death “within seconds” and before the car was set on fire.

■ A police officer testified he patrolled the school parking lot less than an hour before a car was taken there and set on fire and did not find anything suspicous.

■ A neighbor who told police he heard a woman scream next to his house and then saw someone run from a parked car, testified he might have been mistaken. The man also testified a person who he saw was taller than the suspects and had long hair.

Smith, who denied any wrongdoing at his arraignment, is charged with open murder, use of firearm in the commission of a felony and arson.

He allegedly made statements to Stringer that he came across Pesserl — whom he didn’t know — while wandering near Stringer’s house. Pesserl had a habit of sitting in her car and listening to music, family members have told investigators, and Smith is suspected of having attempted to rob her. He is jailed without bond.

Stringer is charged with being an accessory after the fact and tampering with evidence in the case, felonies which carry up to 10 years in prison. He also remains jailed in lieu of $250,000 bond.

Robert T. Smith, Stringer’s attorney, insists his client will eventually be acquitted of all charges.

“He wasn’t aware of anything that happened, so how could he tamper with evidence or be an accessory after the fact?” attorney Smith said at an earlier hearing.

The exam will continue at 11 a.m. on Feb. 9. Both men were remanded to the Oakland County Jail.

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