JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A man accused in the death of a 74-year-old woman was ordered held without bond by a judge at his first appearance hearing Wednesday morning.
Phillip Jason Smith, 37, was booked into the Duval County Jail just after 6 p.m. Tuesday on a charge of murder after he was extradited back to Jacksonville.
Smith's arraignment hearing is set for March 7.
Janice Walker Fulton was found dead Jan. 27 in Henry County, Georgia, south of Atlanta, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said.
Smith, who is believed to have been with Fulton, had stopped for gas in the Kia Optima that police were looking for.
Locust Grove police -- who were alerted the car might be in their area when JSO pinged the GPS tracker in the car -- located the vehicle about 10 p.m. Jan. 26, found Fulton's body and took Smith into custody without incident.
“Our patrol units located the vehicle at the Murphy Oil gas station, and they performed a traffic stop on that vehicle. Through their investigation, the driver was questioned on an unrelated drug charge. He had marijuana in his possession, at which time, the officers located a body in the vehicle," said Detective Darryl Shoemaker, of the Locust Grove Police Department. "The body was concealed in the interior of the vehicle.”
Police learned about Fulton's disappearance, when her grandson called the afternoon of Jan. 26 to report her missing. According to the police report, she had not been seen since Jan. 21, and something in the house made officers believe a serious injury had taken place there.
There’s no word on a motive or cause of death, although police in Georgia reported Fulton had multiple blunt force injuries. Jacksonville police believe Fulton was killed in Jacksonville before Smith headed north.
Police have not said how Fulton and Smith knew each other, but neighbors told News4Jax that Smith was Fulton's nephew, and the two lived together.
Smith was being held in connection with Fulton's death and returned to Jacksonville on Tuesday after waiving extradition on Jan. 27.
"We turned over all evidence to them (JSO), so they took the vehicle and every other piece of evidence collected," Shoemaker said.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith expected there will be a lengthy investigation due to evidence found in two states.
"There’s a lot more information to gather. The forensic evidence that they found in Jacksonville and what appears in the car. They have to see if he has any of his DNA or marking or anything like that to see if they can tie him to the murder, and let the evidence speak for itself," Smith said.
News4Jax checked with the Florida Department of Corrections and discovered Smith was released from prison less than a year ago after serving four years on a conviction for burglary and exploiting an elderly or disabled person.
According to an arrest report, Smith was a part-time caretaker of an 89-year-old man in Bay County in the Florida Panhandle. He was charged with breaking into the man's house, stealing a credit card and using it for his own purposes. The arrest report said Smith made $2,300 in cash withdrawals, paid his utility bill, car insurance bill and cellphone bill and bought a ring for a woman that cost $471.
Anyone who saw Fulton, Smith or the vehicle is asked to contact investigators at 904-630-0500 as they try to piece together what happened to Fulton.