Judge sets $5 million bond for man accused of killing Chattanooga woman Jasmine Pace

Bail for a man charged with the murder of Jasmine Pace, a Chattanooga woman, was set at $5 million on Friday, following a hearing that shed light on the incident.

Jason Chen, 22, sat silent in his second court appearance in a week before Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Larry Ables. Behind him, the courtroom was standing room only Friday afternoon, packed with Pace’s family and other supporters.

Pace, whose body was found near Suck Creek on Nov. 30, appears to have been stabbed about 60 times, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Steven Cogswell said during Friday’s hearing. She had been reported missing a few days earlier.

“It’s six-zero,” Cogswell said.

Chattanooga investigator Zach Crawford testified at Friday’s hearing that the blood found in Chen’s Tremont Street apartment was “the largest amount he had ever seen.”

Blood from Chen’s apartment was sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and found to match genetic material taken from Pace’s toothbrush, Crawford told district attorney general Coty Wamp during the Friday’s hearing.

Chen has been held at the Silverdale Detention Center without bail since his arrest in his hometown of Nolensville, Tennessee on November 29. The bail hearing was postponed until Friday after the state said a witness was unavailable when Chen appeared in court. for the first time on Tuesday.

Chen, who was arrested in connection with the disappearance of Pace, 22, was charged with criminal homicide by Chattanooga police after a large amount of blood was detected in Chen’s apartment, according to an affidavit under oath of the department.

Pace, who according to her Facebook page had been a student at Chattanooga State Community College since September 2017, was reported missing Nov. 27 after her family did not hear from her for a few days.

Ables, the judge presiding over Chen’s case, said he was required to set bail since the state did not seek capital punishment. To break out of lockdown on $5 million bond in Tennessee, a defendant would have to post $500,000, or 10%.

NEW INFORMATION REVEALED

Cogswell, the medical examiner, said Pace was found with multiple injuries that could have been fatal.

A deep chest wound appears to have been stabbed multiple times in the same location, Cogswell said. An approximately 2-inch piece of knife was also found in his chest cavity, after apparently breaking off.

Pace’s body was found chained in a “fetal position” wrapped in trash bags inside a suitcase that had become stuck in vegetation at Suck Creek, Cogswell said. She had stab wounds or cuts to the back of her shoulder that punctured her lungs, the examiner added.

Chen’s mother, who lives at the Nolensville home where he was found and arrested, was Chen’s only witness on Friday.

She testified, through a participating Mandarin interpreter over the phone, that she became concerned for her son after a man appeared at their home to ask about his connection to a missing girl.

Chen, who was in Chattanooga at the time, denied knowing anything about the girl, her mother said. She said she asked Chen to stay with her and her father in Nolensville after that, saying she was scared and didn’t want him to be alone in Chattanooga.

Chen was a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, his mother said, and planned to earn a computer science degree in the spring. His mother could not name any friends or acquaintances Chen has in Hamilton County, but said he worked a few part-time jobs while in college.

Ables, the judge, noted that some of Chen’s mother’s testimony may have been misunderstood due to the language barrier. Lawyers at the hearing could not provide the spelling of Chen’s mother’s name.

Chen’s next court appearance will be a preliminary hearing, scheduled for February 16 in Ables.

FIND JASMINE

Pace’s mother, Catrina Pace, followed Jasmine’s vehicle to a Signal View condominium complex at 900 Mountain Creek Road, according to longtime family friend Bailey Putnama in a phone interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A Nov. 26 post on Jasmine Pace’s Facebook page at 6:52 p.m. of three short videos and a revealing photo, with the caption “enjoying Thanksgiving with my baby!!!” also raised suspicions. Commenters on the post said it was uncharacteristic of Pace to post a photo of her in lingerie, while other commenters claimed it was Chen who posted the post. Commenters also said they reported the photo to Facebook, asking that it be removed.

Catrina Pace met with Chattanooga police officers at 110 Tremont Street on November 27, after Jasmine shared her location via text message on November 23 at 2:15 a.m. After interviewing several residents of the building, it was discovered that Chen , Pace’s alleged boyfriend, was a resident of the building. Police were able to gain access to his apartment, finding Pace’s credit cards and driver’s license, but no sign of Chen or Pace, according to a sworn affidavit from the Chattanooga Police Department.

Surveillance footage obtained by homicide investigators at a Tremont Street Walgreens showed Chen buying peroxide, alcohol, bandages and paper towels, the affidavit said.

Crime Scene Unit investigators used a forensic blood enhancer called BlueStar in Chen’s apartment where “extremely large Bluestar reaction on the living room, bathroom and bedroom floor” was observed, according to the affidavit.

During their search, homicide detectives observed “blood transfer on the living room floor, bathroom grout, master bedroom carpet, and blood splatter on the bathroom wall in Chen’s apartment, according to the affidavit.

Further tests showed large amounts of blood in several areas of Chen’s apartment, including the living room carpet and hardwood floors, according to the affidavit.

Neighbors at the Tremont Street apartment building told officers “they heard a loud, continuous female scream coming from the direction of (Chen’s) apartment” on Nov. 23 at 2:15 a.m., according to the affidavit.

On Nov. 28, homicide investigators accessed the “find my Chevy” app, which Catrina Pace used to locate Jasmine’s 2021 Chevrolet Equinox and was able to access driving records indicating it had been driven to the Signal View condos at 900 Mountain Creek Road, which is 7 km from Chen’s Tremont Street apartment, according to the affidavit. Surveillance video showed a man wearing this “similar style hoodie” as Chen’s in the driver’s seat of Pace’s car, according to the affidavit.

Pace’s body was found Thursday near the Suck Creek Road area, about 10 miles from Chen’s apartment.

Police believe she was “murdered in an altercation” at Chen’s apartment and then moved to another location, according to the affidavit.

Contact Ellen Gerst at egerst@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6319. Follow her on Twitter @ellengerst.

Contact La Shawn Pagán at lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.

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