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'Largest collection of murder-type videos,' retired officer testifies in Heeringa trial

Emma Nicolas/WZZM-TV • May 11, 2018 at 7:49 PM

MUSKEGON — The man tasked with sifting through folders filled with tens of thousands of “murder and sexual assault videos” on Jeffrey Willis' hard drive testified for jurors on Friday.

Friday was the fourth day of testimony in the trial for the kidnapping and open murder of Jessica Heeringa. Willis is charged with her death.

Heeringa went missing in April 2013 from her job at a gas station in Norton Shores. The 25-year-old mother was never seen again and is presumed dead, though her body has never been found.

Gerald McCarthy, a now-retired officer for the Michigan State Police, testified as an expert in computer forensic science. He was responsible for going through evidence acquired by his team during a search warrant of Willis' home.

"The nature of those videos were murder videos, kidnapping videos, sexual assault videos, rape videos," McCarthy said.

There were also copious amounts of pornography stored on the drive. McCarthy said this was the largest collection of murder-type videos he had ever seen. He testified that Willis likely downloaded these videos from websites. One of the sites he frequented was called "rapelover.com,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy also described a folder titled "VICS." One of the coded folders stood for April 26, 2013, the day Heeringa went missing. There were also several missing-person fliers with collages of Heeringa saved in the folder.

In the cross-examination, Willis' attorney, Fred Johnson, asked if anything pertaining to Heeringa was saved prior to her disappearance. McCarthy replied, “No.”

Willis also changed some of his passwords to codes that police believed represented Heeringa's initials and the date of her disappearance.

McCarthy found homemade peeping videos that Willis had made from outside the bedroom windows of his young female neighbors. Also on the drive were videos of young girls in swimsuits at middle and high school swim meets, which Willis' now-ex-wife later testified that there would have been no reason for him to attend.

Two Norton Shores police officers took the stand one after the other. They were both on the Heeringa task force and were the first to investigate a tip regarding Willis.

Sgt. Todd Baker and Cpl. Chris Hare both recounted Willis' inital alibi the same way:

Willis first told police in May 2013 that he had been to the ExxonMobil gas station on the day of Heeringa's disappearance, at about 5 p.m. Willis said he had talked to Heeringa for three minutes while she was working (said he knew her, but did not have a relationship with her). He said he then went to play a card game from 5-9:30 p.m. He then went home after that until 12:30 a.m. before he went to his deceased grandfather's vacant home to get a board to fix a dog house. From there, he said he went to Taco Bell on Sternberg Road and back home.

The officers said they went to the grandfather's vacant home on Bailey Street, but they did not attempt to go inside. They also never checked to see if Willis had a dog, and when they asked to see Willis' cellphone — he said it was with his wife, who was at work. They did look at Willis' silver van, which both officers recalled as being spotless.

At one point, Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson asked Hare: "I don't mean this disrespectfully, but were you paying attention?" Hare said, “Yes.”

Not long after the officers’ testimonies, Willis' former wife, Charlene Bishop, took the stand and said she had been inside with their two dogs when the officers came to the house. Both her and Willis' cellphones were inside the home, as well. The only dog crate they had in the home was a standard metal fence type of crate, Bishop testified.

Hare also attempted to make contact with Bishop in 2013, asking to set up a time to talk on June 4. Several days later, he left her a voicemail saying, "We figured it all out ... unless you have something else to add." Both voicemails were played for jurors. Hare said it was his voice, but that he didn't initially remember making those phone calls. Bishop testified that she never received either message.

Court will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 15, and Johnson said he expects deliberation to start by Wednesday. The prosecutor said he still has six more witnesses to bring to the stand.

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