Howard Township’s woman’s death still being investigated

Published 4:19 am Thursday, November 20, 2003

By By JAN GRIFFEY / Casssopolis Vigilant
NILES -- A group of neighbors, who live near the brick, ranch-style home at 1113 Carberry Road, gathered in a yard across the street from it, some recallling an eerily similar scene.
Shortly after noon on Monday, police were called to the home, where they found the body of former Dowagiac resident Karen Elizabeth Reeves, 34.
Cass County Prosecuting Attorney Victor Fitz said Tuesday morning Reeves' death is being treated as a possible homicide.
He said Reeves was residing at the home. However, he would not say if police have a suspect in her death.
He would not confirm or deny whether one of those interviews included Steven Phelps, who owns the home.
He said the Michigan State Police crime scene investigators worked throughout the night processing the scene and that "additional evidence collection and review of that evidence is taking place at that location (Tuesday)."
Michigan State Police cordoned off the property with yellow crime scene tape and investigators, including those called to Niles from the State Police's crime lab in Grand Rapids, gathered evidence Monday.
Neighbors watched as police and investigators went about their work.
They talked in hushed tones, recalling the 1982 death of another woman killed at the home.
On May 24, 1982, Patricia Jo Lutin, then 28, died from a gunshot wound to the head inflicted by Phelps, then 33, who was charged with second-degree murder, but who was acquitted by a three-man, nine-woman Cass County jury on Jan. 14, 1983.
Phelps, represented by attorney Peter Smith of Niles, claimed he shot Lutin in the head in self-defense, the .38 caliber gun going off as the two wrestled with it during an argument.
Then-Cass County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Susan Dobrich, now a judge, contended Phelps waited in his living room for Lutin and deliberately shot her when she kicked in the front door of the home.
Much of the trial centered around Michigan State Trooper Gary Post's testimony that Phelps told him several incriminating things just after the shooting.
Post said during the 1983 trial that Lutin entered the Phelps home unarmed. Post claimed Phelps said, "If you come any closer, I will kill you." However, the 1983 Daily Star article about the Lutin murder trial said much of what would have been key testimony and evidence for the prosecution was suppressed by Cass County Circuit Judge Michael Dodge.
Suppressed were photographs of Phelps' home taken by Michigan State Police on the night of the shooting and the gun involved.
According to court records, the .38 Smith and Wesson was found two feet from Lutin's body outside the Phelps home under some bushes. Lutin's body was lying next to the front stoop of the home.
Dodge ruled the gun was confiscated during an illegal search of the area and the home.
Phelps owns the Beachcomber Resort on Rose Drive in the Barron Lake area of Howard Township.