GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the trial of a father who authorities say tried to help his son cover up a murder got underway in earnest, attorneys on both sides framed the same events in very different ways.
James Chance wept when his attorney told a jury that Ashley Young’s murder also destroyed not just Young’s family’s life, but also Chance’s.
“He did what he thought he needed to do as a citizen, as a human being,” his public defender said.
Prosecutors disagreed, saying James Chance had the opportunity to come clean to investigators but didn’t.
“The defendant admits to (a Grand Rapids Police Department sergeant) that he knew he’d be accused of aiding and abetting Jared because of what the defendant was doing,” Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Lawrence Boivin said.
Jared Chance, James Chance’s son, was previously convicted of killing and dismembering Young, 31, of Oshtemo Township. James Chance is standing trial for perjury and accessory after the fact in the mutilation of her body.
When opening statements began Tuesday morning, Boivin told the jury that James Chance found out what his son did on Dec. 2, 2018, after the family moved some of Young’s body parts between the Grand Rapids house where she died and the family home in Holland.
Jared Chance and his parents, James and Barbara Chance, went to police headquarters that day.
Young’s mother had spoken to GRPD Lt. Pat Merrill the day before, trying to file a missing person’s report.
“All Lt. Merrill knows at this point is he’s got an adult woman who hasn’t talked to her mom in a couple days,” Boivin said.
Merrill asked Jared Chance when he had last seen Young.
“Jared lies that he saw her on Friday and it’s at that point that the defendant jumps into the conversation and prevents any more questioning of Jared,” Boivin said.
Boivin said James Chance could have spoken up then, but told officers only, “You’re gonna regret letting him go.”
During her opening statement, defense attorney Laura Joyce provided a different interpretation of that comment:
“My client, frustrated with how that interaction went, says, ‘Yeah, you know what, you’re missing an opportunity here,'” Joyce said.
Boivin also said James Chance lied about what time and what route the family used in driving between Grand Rapids and Holland while transporting Young’s remains and the saw used in her dismemberment. That, he told the jury, is perjury.
Joyce said James Chances told his son to face the consequences of his actions and took him to the police department. She said police failed to grasp how serious the situation was and said it was Jared Chance who chose to leave.
“They do what they thought they had to do to make sure the state took over and the state didn’t, and I’m not blaming them for that,” Joyce said. “But you cannot — you cannot — blame Jim for that.”
She went on to say that James Chance did not intentionally lie to investigators about minor details.
“He did nothing wrong. He didn’t help his son dispose of a body. He didn’t help his son evade capture,” Joyce listed.
The first person on the stand after opening statements was a police lieutenant who drove some 300 miles from Rock Island, Illinois, to confirm that James Chance was a police officer there between 1965 and 1989. Chance was a detective sergeant investigating major crimes before he retired.
Next was Young’s mother Kristine Young, who described searching for her daughter after she went missing in November 2018 and soon realizing Jared Chance was the last to see her alive. She recalled speaking with Chance, who told her Young was with someone else.
Kristine Young was the first to testify in Jared Chance’s trial.
Then jurors heard from another person who testified in Jared Chance’s trial: Mario Nelson, Chance’s downstairs neighbor. Nelson discovered the bloody tarp covering some of Young’s remains in the basement after noticing an odd smell.
“What did you find when you went into the basement?” Boivin asked Nelson.
“A tarp. A blue tarp at the bottom of the stairs,” Nelson replied.
“You see anything coming out of the tarp?” Boivin said.
“Blood,” Nelson said.
“And what do you do at that point?”
“Run back upstairs and call the cops,” Nelson said.
Jurors saw grisly photos of where Young’s dismembered limbs and torso were found.
”I have to prove to you when Ashley was killed, when she was mutilated, where she was mutilated and at what point the defendant entered the scene, if you will,” Boivin explained the evidence.
Testimony from detectives and crime scene investigators followed. Prosecutors’ goal was to lay out the fact and timeline of the case to show where they say James Chance lied.
In the afternoon, jurors saw the reciprocating saw that was found under a couch in the Chance’s Holland home. Authorities say it was used to dismember Young.
The trial is expected to take all week. Wednesday’s testimony is expected to continue with Jared Chance’s brother.
While James Chance faces life in prison, his wife Barbara Chance is expected to spend no more than a year in jail after pleading no contest to the same charges Monday. Young’s family was furious about Barbara Chance’s plea, telling News 8 that the Chance family was not taking responsibility for their actions.
Jared Chance is already serving a 100- to 200-year sentence for Young’s murder.
—News 8’s Barton Deiters contributed to this report.