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Court Finds Probable Cause for Suspect in Jasmine Pace Trial

By Mason Edwards, Staff Writer for the University Echo

Chattanooga Police Detective Zack Crawford explains a photo from evidence showing Blue Star Reagent, a reaction agent used by law enforcement to reveal the presence of blood not recognizable to the naked eye, in Jason Chen's Tremont Street apartment. Thursday, February 16, 2023. Seth Carpenter, Photo Editor

Judge Larry Ables, in a Feb. 16 preliminary hearing on the murder of Jasmine Pace, 22, ruled there is probable cause for the state to go to trial against supsect Jason Chen.

Following the testimony, Ables ruled that there is probable cause to suspect Jason Chen could have committed the alleged murder of Pace. Therefore, the case moved forward and Ables will no longer preside over it. The prosecution and defense need to select jurors for a grand jury, and–unless the suspect enters a plea deal with the state–a trial date will need to be set.

Sheriffs escort Jason Chen out of the court room. Thursday, February 16, 2023. Seth Carpenter, Photo Editor

A probable cause preliminary hearing sees a shortened version of testimony, as its sole purpose is to determine whether the suspect could have committed the crime in question; it does not deal with the issue of guilt. Ables mentioned that the suspect, Chen, is to be presumed innocent until a later trial finds him guilty.

To that end, District Attorney General Coty Wamp brought the lead homicide detective in the case, Zack Crawford, back to the witness stand. Crawford led Wamp through the investigation’s timeline, from initial discovery of Pace’s and Chen’s geolocations to introducing new multimedia evidence of Jason Chen purchasing cleaning supplies the day after Pace’s alleged murder.  

“We look for things out of place or suspicious in nature,” Crawford said regarding the search process. “I’ve never seen the amount of blood that I have in this case.”

Attorney Josh Weiss cross-examines the state's witness Detective Zack Crawford. Thursday, February 16, 2023. Seth Carpenter, Photo Editor

The images showed Chen’s apartment layout, blood reagent revealing cleaned blood, remaining blood stains in tile grouting and under the carpet, the suitcase housing the victim’s remains, and surveillance stills of Chen purchasing hydrogen peroxide, bandages and towels at different stores.

The suspect’s defense attorney, Joshua Weiss, debated with Judge Ables over whether his team deserved to see 16 hours of body camera footage that Chattanooga Police held. Ables decided Weiss’ request too closely resembled “evidence fishing” which is asking for materials in the hopes of finding something useful.

Weiss’s cross-examination of Crawford asked about an inconsistency with the evidence markers, but it primarily concerned Catrina Pace’s actions, the victim’s mother, prior to police investigating the crime scene. The prosecution frequently objected to Weiss’s questions, on the grounds that the court labels testimony from one witness about another’s words and actions as hearsay, which is not admissible. 

“We haven’t gotten anywhere in the past thirty minutes,” Wamp protested. “We’re going to be here until midnight.”

District Attorney General Coty Wamp objects to Attorney Josh Weiss' questioning of Detective Zack Crawford (not shown) on the grounds of Hearsay while Judge Larry Ables listens. Thursday, February 16, 2023. Seth Carpenter, Photo Editor

Despite latitude– the judge found several of the defense’s questions about the number of people who entered Chen’s apartment between the alleged crime and police investigation to be hearsay.

“Is it a hearsay question?” Ables rhetorically asked Weiss. “Don’t ask it.”

However, unable to ask Crawford for Katrina Pace’s words, which would have been hearsay, Weiss sought to bring her to the stand as a witness. Ables denied Weiss' request, citing relevancy to the precise purpose of the probable cause hearing. Thus, Weiss brought no witness to the stand. 

Attorney Josh Weiss examines an image taken on November 23, 2022 showing what appears to be his client Jason Chen entering a Northshore Walgreens. Thursday, February 16, 2023. Seth Carpenter, Photo Editor

Emotions simmered before and throughout testimony, with several of Pace’s family leaving the room while the state entered visual evidence. Chen moved little, unless to speak with Weiss, and he stared straight ahead.

At the start of the preliminary hearing, Ables revealed both he and Chen’s parents received death threats and needed to be escorted out of the Hamilton County General Sessions court after the bond hearing on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. During the bond hearing, Ables set Chen’s bond at $5 million.

Again, Ables explained that unless the prosecution filed for a capital case, the State of Tennessee mandated he set a bond–an act which had previously caused stirrings among the victim’s family. 

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