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First witnesses to testify Tuesday in trial for death of Jessica Heeringa

Jon Mills/WZZM-TV • May 7, 2018 at 7:30 PM

MUSKEGON — A jury has been selected and now it's on to opening statements Tuesday morning, May 8, in the trial of Jeffrey Willis for the murder of Jessica Heeringa.

Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson is expected to call more than 30 witnesses. The trial should last all of this week and stretch into part of next week, too.

The first witness is expected to take the stand following opening statements by Hilson and Willis' attorney, Muskegon County public defender Fred Johnson.

For years, the investigation into the disappearance of Heeringa centered on a grainy photo of a silver van and a small drop of her blood found behind the Norton Shores convenience store where she was working alone in April 2013. The photo and blood were the two main clues for police to work from until April 2016, when a 16-year old girl identified Willis as the man who tried to kidnap her on Green Creek Road, north of Muskegon.

That big investigative break was what police needed to uncover a connection between Willis and Heeringa.

The trial

Eight women and six men make up the jury. Eventually, two will be considered alternate jurors.

Hilson has the added burden of proving Heeringa is dead, because her body has never been found.

Evidence includes computer files on Willis' computer titled “VICS,” presumably short for "victims." And there is a subfolder, called “JLH” — Jessica Heeringa's initials.

Jurors may also hear about a handwritten note police found in a trash can at Willis' grandfather's home. That is the location investigators believe Heeringa was killed. The note is believed to be written by Willis, and it lists a number of items including restraints that were located in a locked tool box hidden in Willis' van.

Willis is being held at a prison in Ionia County. He'll travel from there to Muskegon every day for the trial.

Johnson said he's not sure at this time if Willis will take the stand in his own defense, like he did at the trial for the death of Rebekah Bletsch.

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