MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The trial date is set for the man charged with murdering Jessica Heeringa.
Jeffrey Willis is scheduled to stand trial for Heeringa’s kidnapping and murder on March 6 — nearly five years after the 25-year-old disappeared from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked.
Heeringa was last seen the night of April 26, 2013. Willis was charged with murdering and kidnapping her on Sept. 20, 2016, about four months after he was named a person of interest in the case.
Authorities connected Willis to Heeringa’s disappearance based on a battery cover found outside the gas station’s back door. The cover matched a laser sight for a Carl Walther PPK pistol, the same type of gun found inside Willis’ minivan after he was arrested for allegedly trying to abduct a teen girl in the spring of 2016.
Investigators said they also found a folder titled “VICS” on Willis’ hard drive that had a subfolder labeled with Heeringa’s initials and a code for the date of her disappearance. The subfolder contained information about her case.
Heeringa’s co-worker previously testified that around the time Heeringa disappeared, she saw a silver minivan matching the description of Willis’ vehicle pull up behind the gas station.
Willis also testified he bought mints from Heeringa hours before she disappeared, but denied having anything to do with her disappearance.
Willis’ trial for Heeringa’s murder is expected to run 12 days over the span of three weeks, ending March 23.
Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson previously told 24 Hour News 8 he expects Willis’ trial for Heeringa’s murder to look very similar to his trial for the 2014 murder of Rebekah Bletsch. However, prosecutors face some new challenges in this case: Heeringa’s body has never been found and none of the evidence presented in Willis’ trial for Bletsch’s murder contained Heeringa’s DNA.
It took a jury 90 minutes to return a guilty verdict in the Bletsch murder case last month. Willis is expected to be sentenced in that case sometime in December.
Meanwhile, Willis’ cousin is expected to be sentenced Jan. 9 for his role in Heeringa’s disappearance. The day before his November trial was set to begin, Kevin Bluhm pleaded no contest to being an accessory to a crime after the fact for allegedly helping Willis dispose of Heeringa’s body.
The prosecutor says sentencing guidelines call for zero to nine months in prison because Bluhm doesn’t have a prior criminal record.