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The husband of a Connecticut mother who was found dead in a wooded area last week has been arrested in connection to her suspected slaying, police said.
Tahj Hutchinson, 22, was jailed last week on manslaughter charges related to the murder of his estranged wife, Jessica Edwards, who disappeared earlier this month. The couple had filed divorce paperwork prior to her disappearance, police said.
On Friday, police announced Edwards’ body had been found near a trail close to the entrance of Hockanum River Linear Park in East Hartford. Hours later, Hutchinson was arrested.
Edwards’s death was ruled a homicide. Preliminary autopsy results concluded the 30-year-old mother died of asphyxia compression of the torso and neck.
Detectives said they suspect Hutchinson smothered Edwards under the weight of his own body at the couple’s South Windsor home on May 10 following a struggle.
“He put significant pressure on her back and her neck,” Sgt. Mark Cleverdon, of the South Windsor Police Department, told Oxygen.com. “She was face down. He put the weight of his body on her until she stopped breathing.”
Hutchinson claimed his wife had hit him over the head with a laptop and then attacked him with a kitchen knife, according to an arrest warrant obtained by Oxygen.com. The 22-year-old eventually pinned his wife to the living room floor until she stopped moving, police said. According to investigators, Hutchinson claimed he’d killed his wife after she’d reached a “breaking point” with him following several days of verbal and physical confrontations.
The couple’s 7-month-old son was in the home at the time of the incident. After allegedly killing his wife, Hutchinson is believed to have left Edwards on the floor and tended to their child. He is believed to have later loaded her body into his Jeep, dragged the corpse into a wooded area, then reported her as missing at a police station in East Hartford.
Hutchinson, who cooperated with authorities from the investigation’s early stages, was considered a suspect after detectives determined his statements were “deceptive” and “deceitful,” the arrest affidavit alleged.
“Early on we were fortunate ... Mr. Hutchinson made himself available to us for interviews and consent searches and regular contact, so we could start to get an idea what he was about and hold him to his statements,” Cleverdon said.
Cell phone records, as well as surveillance footage, disproved Hutchinson's version of events, police said.
“We were able to put him in a location where Jessica’s body was found and kind of filled our timetables of when he had left the residence that night,” Cleverdon said. “We were able to determine it took him about 28 minutes to get to East Hartford PD to his residence so he had about a 10-to-13-minute gap that we believe he used to dispose of Jessica’s body.”
Hutchinson also told police that he last saw his spouse with a friend the day she disappeared. He also claimed scratches he sustained to his face were from working on his Jeep.
“That was inaccurate or that did not happen,” Cleverdon said.
Police also found blood on a pillow in the couple’s condo, as well as on a handle of Hutchinson’s Jeep.
“We’re still waiting to get documentation or evidence back that it’s from Jessica but we believe it to be Jessica’s blood,” Cleverdon said.
Police haven’t released a motive but suspect Edwards’ murder was fueled by domestic violence and a tense divorce.
“There was divorce paperwork that was found within the residence,” Cleverdon said. “They were still married. She had filed some paperwork or left some paperwork for him.”
Family also confirmed the couple had been fighting in the days leading up to Edwards’ disappearance.
Hutchinson may face upgraded murder charges, officials said. The FBI and state investigators also assisted on the case.
A family spokesperson said Edwards's husband’s arrest was a “bittersweet” moment.
“I’m quite sure that they are elated about the arrest of the young man that is alleged to have killed their daughter,” the Rev. Cornell Lewis told Oxygen.com on Monday. “At least the family can have some kind of closure but now they have to deal with the fact that the ex-husband is on trial for manslaughter.”
Lewis, who led grassroots search efforts for Edwards at the behest of her family, said volunteers, including divers, drone operators, and kayakers came out to assist in daily rescue operations.
“The community worked long and hard to put pressure on the power structure in the community to provide resources to find Jessica,” he explained. “A lot of people put in a lot of time and effort in.”
News surrounding the discovery of her body was personally numbing, Lewis added.
“We just stopped passing out flyers and I told everybody to go home and I thanked them,” he recalled. “The next day I felt empty. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t angry. I felt like a hollow feeling in my stomach — empty.”
Edwards aspired to a career in medicine. She was taking clinical training sessions at Hartford Hospital as part of a community college course at the time of her disappearance. She was a “hardworking,” “humble,” and “intelligent” young woman, with a “bright future,” according to her family.
“It’s a devastating loss to our community to have somebody like that taken away,” Lewis added. “And it resonated with a lot of people.”
Edwards’ family previously accused local investigators of racial bias after few leads surfaced as to her whereabouts following her disappearance.
“It seemed as if nobody cared about Jessica,” Lewis explained. “That’s what sparked such an outpouring of support. The South Wind police were stumbling in their attempt to help.”
Local police, however, denied the accusations.
“That’s categorically false,” Cleverdon said. “We were working 24/7 around the clock to find Jessica and bring justice.”
Hutchinson was booked into South Windsor police department on a million-dollar bond. A Manchester Superior Court judge upped the amount to $1.5 million in court on Monday. It’s unclear if Hutchinson immediately had retained an attorney to comment on his behalf.
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