1 year later: Revisiting the case against accused killer Jeffrey Willis

Accused killer Jeffrey Willis is expected to stand trial for murder in June.

MUSKEGON, MICH. - It's been exactly one year -- April 16 -- since a teenage girl escaped from a van she said was driven by 47-year-old Jeffrey Willis.

That girl's heroic action ultimately led police to link Willis with two murders. Now, he is expected to stand trial for one of those murders in June. 

Last year in Muskegon County, that teenage girl escaped an attempted abduction by Willis, police say. She told investigators she jumped from a moving silver minivan on River Road. She said the man driving that van, later identified as Willis in a photo line up, pulled a gun on her after she got into his van to use his cell phone.

That incident was the big break police were looking for, which linked Willis to two high profile cases in the Muskegon area: The death of jogger Rebekah Bletsch and the abduction of gas station clerk Jessica Heeringa.

Prosecutors said Willis is responsible for both murders.

More: Jeffrey Willis trial could be delayed past June as defense files appeal

Bletsch was shot and killed while jogging along Automobile Road in Muskegon County in June 2014. A year earlier, prosecutors said Willis kidnapped 25-year-old Heeringa. Investigators later found evidence possibly linking Willis to the Bletsch case.

In September 2016, Willis was charged with Heeringa's murder. Her body has never been found.

Willis is scheduled to go to trial for Bletch's murder on June 13. He's still awaiting a trial date for the murder and kidnapping charges for Heeringa.

However, Willis's attorneys want the Michigan Court of Appeals to find in their favor that jail guards went through Willis' belongings and violated his rights.

The defense's arguments were heard following a video which showed Willis putting notes into an envelope inside his cell. Willis then left his cell while guards entered to conduct a search.

Although his lawyers couldn't get the judge to dismiss any of his charges, the judge ordered some of the items removed and inspected by the guard to not be used at trial.

The Court of Appeals could decide in the next few weeks if a review is necessary. At that point, it could take even longer to find out if the ruling stands or is overturned, which means it could postpone the June trial date.

Willis's cousin, Kevin Bluhm, will also go to trial on charges of his alleged involvement in Heeringa's death. Bluhm plead guilty to two charges of lying to police last summer. He was accused of telling a detective that Jeffrey Willis, "did do it" in reference to the Heeringa murder.

Bluhm also told police that he helped take care of Heeringa's body, but he later said the story was made up.

►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WZZM 13 app now.

Have a news tip? Email news@wzzm13.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter.

© 2017 WZZM-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment