Popejoy murder trial postponed

Becky Vargo • May 17, 2018 at 11:00 AM

The trial for accused murderer Wendell Earl Popejoy has been delayed now that the Coopersville man has retained a new attorney.

Popejoy was arrested late last year for the alleged murder of his neighbor over a shared driveway disagreement. 

On Feb. 5, the 63-year-old man’s former attorney, Phil Sielski, told an Ottawa County judge that his client stood mute and waived his arraignment on the murder charge at the higher court level. A not-guilty plea was entered in Popejoy’s behalf and he remained lodged in the Ottawa County Jail without bond.

And that’s the way things will remain pending his trial, said newly retained attorney Jeffrey Kortes of Grand Rapids.

Kortes said a new trial date would be discussed during a pre-trial conference scheduled for next week. No other hearing dates have been set at this time.

Much of the groundwork has already been done for trial preparation, Kortes said.

“His prior attorney was very helpful and kept things in good order,” Kortes said. “It makes it a lot easier.”

Kortes said no plea to any charges is planned at this time. 

“He is exercising his rights until there is resolution,” the defense attorney said. “One of those rights is he is presumed not guilty.”

Popejoy is charged with the Dec. 26, 2017, murder of his next-door neighbor, 59-year-old Sheila Bonge, who lived at 14961 104th Ave. in Crockery Township. 

According to court documents, Popejoy admitted killing Bonge when interviewed by Ottawa County Sheriff’s detectives. During the interview, Popejoy said he saw Bonge outside his residence that day. She was blowing snow from the easement driveway in front of his home.

“Wendell stated that he had made the decision when he saw Sheila to kill her,” according to the court document. “He then grabbed a gun from his home; he went out to the easement where Sheila was blowing the snow. Wendell stated that he went up behind Sheila and shot her in the back of the head and disposed of her body behind his residence.”

Bonge was reported missing the next day. Her body was found Dec. 28 in the snow behind Popejoy’s house.

During the preliminary examination on Jan. 24, testimony revealed that there was an ongoing dispute between the neighbors regarding a driveway easement.

Also during the hearing, Ottawa County Sheriff’s Detective Ann Koster testified that Popejoy admitted putting Bonge’s body on a sled and taking it down the hill behind his house. He removed Bonge’s clothing and burned it.

Popejoy then hid the gun in the garage, but later removed it and threw it in the Grand River off the 68th Avenue Bridge in Eastmanville, Koster said.

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