GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Imprisoned killer Jeffrey Willis is appealing his convictions in two Muskegon County homicides, including the abduction and murder of Jessica Heeringa, who disappeared from a Norton Shores gas station in 2013.
On Tuesday, an attorney representing Willis in the Heeringa case appeared before the Michigan Court of Appeals asking that he get a new trial.
Attorney Anna R. Rapa says a so-called rape kit linked to Willis during the Heeringa murder trial in 2018 shouldn't have been admitted into evidence. The kit, she said, came into his possession after Heeringa disappeared.
Rapa also says Willis was hurt by pre-trial publicity.
“There was at least one jury member that was convinced that she [Heeringa] was already dead, which is one of the elements the government has to prove,’’ Rapa said. “All of these different pieces of evidence played a huge role in the Jessica Heeringa case and the conviction.’’
Willis was arrested in May of 2016 for the attempted abduction of a teenage girl in Fruitland Township. Investigators then connected him with the disappearance of Heeringa and the murder of Rebekah Bletsch, who was fatally shot in 2014 while jogging in Muskegon County's Dalton Township.
Willis is serving two life terms for the murders of Heeringa and Bletsch. Willis is also appealing his conviction in the Bletsch case, but arguments were not heard in court on Tuesday. The Muskegon County Prosecutor's Office filed extensive written briefs defending both murder convictions.
It could be several weeks before the three-judge appeals court panel issues its rulings.
Now 49, Willis is serving his life sentences at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia.
More from 13 ON YOUR SIDE:
- Police: No remains located in Muskegon County
- It's been six years since Jessica Heeringa disappeared
- Jurors find Jeffrey Willis guilty of killing Norton Shores store clerk Jessica Heeringa
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