by Tana Michaels
SAGINAW – “It went from smoke coming out of the second and third story windows to an instant ball of fire in a flash,” said key witness Jeffery DeGuise a tenant of murder victim Charles Dar . His testimony was heard during the preliminary hearing for suspect Michael Kerr on Sept. 11. Kerr is charged with the murder of Darr at his home in early August. Other charges against him include arson and carjacking.
Darr was a longtime volunteer for a number of nonprofits, including Perceptions, the region’s LGBT organization.
In the 70th district court of Saginaw County, presided over by Judge M. Randall Jurens, four witnesses laid out the story leading up to Darr’s murder.
Originally Lt. Lively, of the Saginaw police department, said two men were pulled from the house, one of them, DeGuise, testified Tuesday that he was outside of the house when the fire began. Lt. Lively could not be reached for comment about the discrepancy.
Three witnesses reported seeing Darr alive on the morning of Aug. 4. He was with his geese and ducks in the yard of his home at 443 S. Weadock in Saginaw. No one saw him alive again after that.
Darr owned an S-10 pickup truck that was parked in his driveway the morning of Aug. 4, but was not seen again in his driveway after that date. Mary Rehmann, a former neighbor and good friend of Darr’s told Richard King of the Saginaw County prosecutors office, that she had borrowed Darr’s truck a couple of times, however other witnesses said that Darr would never loan his truck to anyone.
DeGuise’s girlfriend, Patricia Schomeker, testified that she noticed an odor in Deguise’s apartment on Aug. 5 and mentioned it to him. Together, they narrowed the area of the odor to the bathroom of Deguise’s third floor apartment. The bathroom is located directly above Darr’s bedroom. Darr lived on the second floor of the home. The two thought the odor was from faulty bathroom plumbing, perhaps a sewer smell.
DeGuise told King that he saw Kerr at the back door of Darr’s home on Sunday. Later that day, as DeGuise passed by the second floor living quarters on his way out of the house, he spoke through the door to Kerr saying sternly, “How ya doing Mike?” to which Kerr replied, “Not bad Jeff.” DeGuise said he was suspicious that something wasn’t right with Kerr being in Darr’s apartment without him there. He assumed, since the truck was gone, Darr was not at home.
On Aug. 7, when Darr didn’t show up for work at the thrift shop where he volunteered weekly, friends decided to call 911. DeGuise went back to the house to await police. No one from the Saginaw police department responded. DeGuise then walked to the station several blocks away and returned with officers whom he let in the side door of the house. From there police knocked Darr’s apartment door down and “either knocked down, or forced the bedroom door open.” DeGuise testified.
DeGuise told the prosecutor that he saw the officer react to what he was seeing in the bedroom and ordered everyone out of the house. “Everyone out! This is a crime scene!” The officer yelled. From outside, DeGuise watched the smoke and flames envelop the house before being taken in for questioning and released.
According to testimony, Kerr had rented Darr’s carriage house in March of 2007. When asked in July where Kerr was, Darr told Schomeker that he went back to Sterling. To DeGuise, he said that Kerr had gone into rehab. No one who testified had seen Kerr at the house again until Aug. 5.
Kerr’s attorney, Edward Czuprynski of Bay City, said “My client didn’t kill anybody. We’re going to fight this to the hilt.”
Two of Darr’s three daughters were in the courtroom for the preliminary hearing. The youngest, Tisa Szczepanski said, “We’re in shock. I don’t know what to think or feel at this point. There’s so much to process.” Tanya Darr, the oldest daughter, expressed a wish to put this behind her. “I just want to take care of things and move on.” she said.
After nearly three hours of testimony Tuesday morning, there was no determination about whether to hold Kerr over for trial. The preliminary hearing will continue in October though a specific date has not been set yet.