Bletsch autopsy, Heeringa case recounted in Willis trial

Jeffrey Willis, Rebekah Blestch
Jeffrey Willis rubs his forehead before opening statements begin in his murder trial on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, at the Muskegon County Courthouse in Muskegon, Mich.


MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The forensic pathologist who examined Rebekah Bletsch’s body took the stand Friday in the trial of Jeffrey Willis.

Willis, 47, is charged with murder in the June 2014 death of Bletsch. The 36-year-old mother and wife was shot and killed while jogging along a rural road near her home in Muskegon County’s Dalton Township.

Photo: Rebekah Bletsch (Source: Facebook)

Friday, Dr. Brandy Shattuck testified she found four gunshot wounds to Bletsch’s head; three of them were entry wounds. She also said she found bruising on Bletsch’s face, wrist and thigh and abraisons to her face, wrist, left side to the back.

Shattuck said she found bullet fragments in Bletsch’s brain, scalp and hair.

During the medical examiner’s testimony, Bletsch’s aunt had to leave because she was crying uncontrollably. Bletsch’s father chose to stay out of the courtroom.

Despite an objection by defense attorney Fred Johnson, prosecutor D.J. Hilson brought up insulin — a medication used for diabetics that was found in Willis’ minivan.

Shattuck said the effect of insulin on a non-diabetic person can lower their blood sugar so dramatically, they can lose consciousness, possibly slip into a coma and die.

However in cross-examination, Shattuck said she did not find any indication on Bletsch’s body that a needle had punctured her skin.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the Jeffrey Willis investigation  

Defense lawyer Fred Johnson also asked the medical examiner about gun residue which would indicate that Bletsch was shot in close range.

“Any type of gun powder or soot would have easily been absorbed by her hair and possibly washed away by blood. That’s why I can’t give a range of fire on these wounds,” Shattuck said.

However, the medical examiner confirmed that any of the shots Bletsch suffered could incapacitate her.

Despite earlier testimony that Bletsch’s shirt was hitched up and her pants rucked down slightly, Shattuck testified there was no obvious trauma to Bletsch’s genitalia, but swabs and samples were collected.

JESSICA HEERINGA’S DISAPPEARANCE

The second half of testimony Friday centered around the April 26, 2013 disappearance of Jessica Heeringa from the Muskegon County gas station where she worked.

Jurors heard from Susan Elliott Mosely who bought a lighter from Heeringa shortly before she disappeared.

“No mistaking, we talked that night,” Mosley said, who confirmed Heeringa’s name was at the top of her receipt.

Mosely said Heeringa was in a “good mood” that night.

Jurors also heard a recording of the 911 call Craig Harpster made when he found no one inside or outside the gas station.

Cpl. Joel Hoeksema of the Norton Shores Police Department testified he found the back door of the gas station closed and no noticeable signs of a disturbance. He said there was a purse, purple jacket and a cash drawer in the backroom. The till was sitting atop a safe, undisturbed, he added.

jessica heeringa
Photo: Jessica Heeringa went missing from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked on April 26, 2013.

Hoeksema testified he found two small watch batteries, a laser sight battery cover for a Carl Walther pistol and blood outside the back door of the business.

The most emotional testimony of the day came from Heeringa’s co-worker, Susan Follett.

Follett said while riding motorcycles with her ex-husband down E. Sternberg Road, she spotted a gray minivan pulling into the gas station. She testified the vehicle pulled behind the building and flipped off its lights.

Follett said when she reached Harvey Street, she told her husband she was going back because “something’s not right.”

She also testified she saw a man open the back hatch of the minivan and close it before climbing into the driver’s seat and leaving.

“I pulled out behind him, he turned right at the end of the road and I turned left,” she said tearfully before swearing.

Follett said the driver was wearing a red long-sleeved shirt.

Cpl. Christopher Hare of Norton Shores police testified a tip he received on May 7, 2013 was also about a man wearing a red sweatshirt who frequented a local business and seemed to act odd to workers.

Hare testified the tip led him to interview Jeffrey Willis at his home on S. Sheridan Drive in Muskegon Township.

Hare said Willis told him he knew Jessica Heeringa. Hare said Willis told him he bought mints at the gas station around 5 p.m. the day of her disappearance, then left to play cards at a card shop. Willis told the officer he left the card shop around 9:30 p.m. then went home, where he stayed until 12:30 a.m., when he left for his grandfather’s home in Norton Shores. Hare testified Willis said he needed a board from the house to repair or build his dog kennel.

Hare testified he inspected Willis’ silver van. He said Willis opened the doors and back hatch.

“And the van was empty, entirely empty. And it was clean, to the point there were vacuum marks on the floor. He said he had it detailed,” Hare said.

Hare said Willis told him his wife had his cellphone, so he could not get it at that time.

Laurie Sinclair with Norton Shores police testified when she received her Willis’ cellphone and removed the battery to check its serial number, the phone suffered a “fatal error” and would no longer function. Michigan State Police experts told her there was nothing she could do to extract data from the phone, she said.

Sinclair said Willis voluntarily gave up his phone and it appeared to be functioning, but with a low battery when she received it.

Defense attorney Fred Johnson asked every witness questioned about Heeringa’s disappearance if they personally knew Bletsch or heard her mentioned during the course of their investigation; they all answered “no.”

Testimony in the Willis trial is expected to resume around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

>>App users: Interactive timeline of Willis investigation