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Crime & Courts

Man arrested in connection to death of Eagle River woman was recorded on video carrying her body, charges say

A man who was arrested in connection to the death of a 27-year-old Eagle River woman was recorded on video carrying her body to his car before she was later found dead at the base of a cliff near Eklutna Lake Road, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Jerilyn Nicholson’s family reported her as missing to police on Friday, according to the charging documents filed by Anchorage Assistant District Attorney Daniel Shorey on Wednesday. Her father told police that Nicholson had been picked up at the hospital and returned to their family home in Eagle River, but was then brought to her ex-boyfriend’s home, the charging document said.

No one had heard from her since April 26, according to the charging document.

Police spoke with 36-year-old Eddie Thomas Jr., Nicholson’s ex-boyfriend. According to the charging document, Thomas told officers that Nicholson left his home on the 16500 block of Centerfield Drive shortly after she had arrived on April 24.

Just before 4 p.m. Saturday, May 1, Nicholson’s body was discovered at the bottom of an embankment near Mile 5 of Eklutna Lake Road, the charges said.

“Crime scene personnel did not observe any obvious signs of cause of death,” the charging document said.

Thomas was brought to the police department for an interview, the charges said. He told police Nicholson had wanted to take a bath and drink at his home but left within an hour of arriving, the charging document said.

Officers showed Thomas a photo Nicholson had posted on her Instagram account the night of April 24 that showed a bathtub, but he denied the photo was taken inside his home, the charging document said. Police later walked through his apartment with his consent and noted that his bathtub matched the one in the photo, the charging document said.

Nicholson was last seen alive on surveillance video from a store near Thomas’ apartment on April 24 around 9:40 p.m., the charges said. Police later saw a shirt matching one tied around her waist in the store’s surveillance footage hanging up in Thomas’ apartment, according to the charges. Records showed her phone did not leave the general area of his apartment until April 29, the charging document said.

Security footage from a camera outside Thomas’ apartment showed him opening the door of his Subaru Impreza just before 11:30 a.m. on April 27 and going back inside, according to the charges.

He returned a few minutes later “carrying a lifeless human body,” the charging document said.

Thomas placed the body — which appeared to be Nicholson based on hair, physical size and clothing — into the passenger seat and then drove off, the charging document said.

“He drives off, he drives up to the Valley and he comes back later on that day, he goes out with friends and he plays frisbee golf,” prosecutor Shorey said during Thomas’ arraignment hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Shorey told Judge Michael Logue that Thomas’ friends did not notice any strange behavior from him that day.

Shorey said police previously responded to Thomas’ apartment for a disturbance and possible rape call in October. According to a municipal charging document filed in the incident, Nicholson told police the call had been an accident but Thomas began interfering with officer’s attempts to to talk with her. He was eventually charged with interfering with a report of a crime involving domestic violence and two counts of resisting or interfering with a peace officer in the case.

Thomas was on release for that case and another case involving driving under the influence when police filed additional charges Tuesday related to the investigation into Nicholson’s death and arrested him. He appeared in court Wednesday on the charges of tampering with physical evidence, misconduct involving a corpse, unlawful contact and violating conditions of release.

During the hearing, Logue said there is potential for additional charges to be added in the future.

“Right now I understand the background and I see the possible trajectory of this case, but we’re not at that point,” he said.

Nicholson’s family told the judge that the investigation is hung up on the cause of death and toxicology reports, which may take three to six weeks to process. An autopsy was conducted on Nicholson this week but a cause of death had not been determined by Wednesday, the charging document said.

Nicholson’s two sisters said they had reached out to Thomas following her disappearance and at some point visited him at his apartment. They noticed three holes that had recently been punched into the wall and saw that one of his cheeks was unusually swollen, they told Logue.

Nicholson’s father said during Wednesday’s hearing that he is a minister who supervises churches throughout the country and internationally. Her death has impacted not only their family, but everyone who knew her, he told the judge.

“We have large members of our church family in shock and hurting — it’s not just our family. ... I know that they would like to see justice done. They’re still in shock,” he said. “There’s anger — you name the emotion, it’s still there and we’re dealing with that. So, it’s not just our family, it’s impacting the world.”

Thomas was assigned to the public defender’s office, and his bail was set at $25,000.