Day 2 of testimony ends in Willis trial for Bletsch murder

Jeffrey Willis accused of murdering Rebekah Bletsch in Dalton Township in June 2014

Jeffrey Willis, Rebekah Blestch
Jeffrey Willis stares into the gallery 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 Latest on Jeffrey Willis’ trial for the murder of Rebekah Bletsch:

4:45 p.m. – Testimony ended for the day. The judge said the trial will resume Tuesday.

Laurie Sinclair with the Norton Shores Police Department was the last to testify Friday.

She said in early May 2013, she received Jeffrey Willis’ cellphone. She said it was an older device that appeared to be in working condition but with a low battery when she got it. However, she said when she removed the battery to check the device’s serial number then replaced the battery, the phone suffered a “fatal error” and would no longer function.

Sinclair testified she’s not sure what would’ve caused the error. Michigan State Police experts told her there was nothing she could do to extract data from the phone.

Sinclair said she wrote a letter to Boost Mobile to basically waive Willis’ phone usage bill, which he requested.

In cross-examination, Sinclair said Willis voluntarily turned over his cellphone.

4:30 p.m. – The prosecutor has called Cpl. Christopher Hare of the Norton Shores police department to the stand.

Hare testified he received thousands of tips in Heeringa’s disappearance. Hare said tip 268 which he received on May 7, 2013 was about a man driving a silver van who frequented a local business, wore a red sweatshirt and seemed to act odd to workers. Hare testified the tip led him to interview Jeffrey Willis at his home on S. Sheridan.

Hare said Willis told him he did know Jessica Heeringa. He said Willis said 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 arrived home around 9:45 p.m. until he left at 12:30 a.m., when he left for his grandfather’s home on Bailey in Norton Shores to retrieve a board to repair or build his dog kennel, according to Hare.

Willis told the officer his wife had his cellphone, so Hare testified he could not get it at that time.

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.
In cross-examination, Johnson asked Hare if anyone he interviewed led him to the name Rebekah Blestch. He said no.

4 p.m. – Norton Shores Cpl. Joel Hoeksema was on duty April 26, 2013 – the night Jessica Heeringa disappeared.

He said he was called to the station for a suspicious situation – no one was there.

The officer said the back door of the gas station was closed, there were no noticeable signs of a disturbance, a purse, purple jacket and a cash drawer were in the backroom. The till was sitting atop a safe, undisturbed. He said the purse was determined to belong to Heeringa.

Hoeksema testified he found two small watch batteries, a battery cover for a laser sight and blood outside the backdoor of the business.

The battery cover for the laser sight was for a Carl Walther pistol, Hoeksema testified.

3:45 p.m. – A co-worker of Jessica Heeringa’s testified she saw a gray minivan pull up to the gas station the night Heeringa disappeared.

Susan Follett worked first shift at the Exxon Mobil gas station Heeringa also worked. She said on April 26, 2013, she was riding her motorcycle with her ex-husband Eric Barber down E. Sternberg Road when she saw a gray minivan pull into the gas station, roll behind the back of the building and flipped off its lights.

Follett testified when she got to Harvey, she told her ex-husband she was going back because “something’s not right.”

She said she saw the back hatch of the minivan lift and close. She said a man got into the driver’s side and drove away.

“The van started rolling, the lights came on. It was quick,” she said.

She said she saw no one in the vehicle.

“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 bright red long-sleeved shirt.

Follett said minutes after she got home, she got a phone call from her old boss and she returned to the gas station.

Defense attorney Fred Johnson had one question for Follett: “Did you know Rebekah Bletsch?” “No,” she answered.

3:30 p.m. – Craig Harpster testified the night of April 26, 2013, he went to the Exon Mobil gas station to get gas. When he needed the pump activated, he went inside and searched, but found no one.

The prosecutor then played a recording of Harpster’s 911 call.

Harpster described seeing a Honda in the area of a nearby car wash. He said it was high school students taking pictures of a train for their yearbook.

Harpster testified he knew what Heeringa looked like but did not know her personally.

3:20 p.m. – Jurors have heard testimony from one of the last people to see Jessica Heeringa alive.

Susan Elliott Mosely testified she bought a lighter from Heeringa at the gas station where she worked on April 26, 2013.

She confirmed her receipt for the ligher had Jessica Heeringa’s name on it.

“No mistaking, we talked that night,” Mosley said.

She testified Heeringa was in a good mood. She said no one else was in the store for her brief purchase, but there was a four-door Honda-type sedan that pumped gas and left.

3 p.m. – In cross-examination, Dr. Shattuck said she cannot determine which gunshot wound happened first or which one was the fatal shot.

Shattuck clarified that Bletsch had three entrance wounds, but four gunshot wounds. She said there was no obvious trauma to the victim’s genitalia, but she was tested for any fluids.

Shattuck said she didn’t see any injection points from a needle on Bletsch or stippling, which would indicate she was shot at close range.

The judge ordered a ten-minute recess.

2:45 p.m. – The forensic pathologist said any one of the “hits” to the head Bletsch suffered could incapacitate her.

She testified the trauma from the three gunshot wounds Bletsch suffered could cause the blood and bruising seen around her ears and eyes.

The defense objected to the forensic pathologist answering the prosecutor’s questions about insulin, but the judge allowed it.

Dr. 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.

In the final questions from prosecutor D.J. Hilson, Shattuck testified Bletsch’s cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds to the head and her manner of death was a homicide.

2:30 p.m. – The forensic pathologist is reviewing photos taken of the wounds of Bletsch’s body.

She said she found four gunshot wounds in Bletsch’s hairline, as well as bruising on her face, wrists and thigh and bruising and contusions on the right shoulder and side to back.

Dr. Brandy Shattuck said an entry and exit wound to Bletsch’s head indicated a back to front, upward left to right glancing gunshot. Shattuck said her team found bullet fragments in Bletsch’s scalp and hair.

Shattuck said there was “a significant amount of blood” while examining Bletsch’s head.

She said her team found another wound while examining Bletsch’s skull, on the right side, slightly above and behind her ear. The bullet’s path moved “pretty straight across” Bletsch’s head, according to Shattuck.

The forensic pathologist said they found two projectile fragments inside the brain tissue while examining another wound.

2:15 p.m. – The forensic pathologist who examined Rebekah Bletsch’s body is testifying.

Dr. Brandy Shattuck began by explaining the process her team goes through when examining a dead person.

She then reviewed a copy of the June 30, 2014 report she created in the Bletsch case.

2 p.m. – Retired detective Brian Harris says the location of the casings he found could indicate that the person who shot and killed Rebekah Bletsch fired one shot before moving during the shooting.

Harris told defense attorney Fred Johnson Bletsch’s personal items were gathered alongside the roadway when he saw them.

1:45 p.m. – Retired detective Brian Harris of the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department is the first witness to testify Friday.

Harris said he collected a shell casing and discovered a spent .22 cartridge on the west side of the road where Bletsch was shot and killed. Harris said when he was told Bletsch had been shot three times, he went back and found a third shell casing.


MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) —  A medical examiner is expected to discuss Rebekah Bletsch’s autopsy results this afternoon as testimony continues in the trial of Jeffrey Willis, who’s accused of murdering Bletsch more than three years ago.

In his opening statement Thursday, Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson said Willis was trying to kidnap Bletsch, a 36-year-old mother, before he shot her as she jogged near her Dalton Township home in June 2014.

Photo: Rebekah Bletsch (Source: Facebook)

Hilson listed some of his evidence, including a glove of Willis’ with Bletsch’s DNA on it; a file titled “VICS” on his computer that included a subfolder labeled with her initials and the date of her death; and perhaps most importantly, a ballistics test showing a handgun found in Willis’ minivan was the one used to kill her.

Prosecutors will try to paint the picture of a serial killer, describing a man who wrote a list of items to go in a rape kit; who left nearly a dozen bottles of bleach on his late grandfather’s property; who had hundreds of murder porn videos on his computer; who kept a stolen gun, gloves and handcuffs in his van.

They’ll also bring up the other charges Willis face — the attempted abduction of a teen girl in Fruitland Township April 2016 and the kidnapping and murder of Jessica Heeringa from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked three years before that.

But the defense is blaming Bletsch’s death on Willis’ cousin, Kevin Bluhm, saying he was “stalking” Bletsch on Facebook and that he had the marksmanship skills necessary to kill her. The defense claims Bluhm took items from Willis’ van and returned them after killing Bletsch.

Bluhm, a former sergeant at a state prison in Muskegon, is charged as an accessory after the fact in Heeringa’s murder.

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

As testimony in Willis’ trial began Thursday, jurors heard from the registered nurse who discovered Bletsch on the side of the road after she was shot, face-down and bleeding heavily from the head but still breathing. The 911 call from that evening was played, illustrating the ultimately unsuccessful attempts to save Bletsch’s life.

At first, the nurse thought Bletsch may have been hit by a car. It was later revealed she had been shot three times in the head.

The nurse and two deputies who responded to the scene testified that a neat pile of Blestch’s belongings was found across the street from where her body lay.

One deputy testified to finding a bullet casing near Blestch’s body. Another said he noticed bruising on her rib cage and wrist.

Willis’ trial is slated to run through Nov. 3.

>>App users: Interactive timeline of Willis investigation