During Wednesday’s testimony, police detectives described the extreme cold and snowy conditions they encountered while searching for the 59-year-old Crockery Township woman Dec. 27-28, 2017. Police also noted how the search for the missing woman quickly changed into a suspicious death investigation.
Prosecutors say that Popejoy, 64, premeditated the murder of his next-door neighbor on the morning after Christmas. He is charged with shooting her from behind while she operated the snow blower on an easement driveway serving their homes.
Popejoy has been jailed since the end of last year. His trial in Ottawa County Circuit Court for first-degree murder and felony firearm charges began Tuesday.
Bonge was reported missing two days after Christmas and her body was found late in the afternoon of Dec. 28, about 150 feet behind Popejoy’s home.
In two recorded interviews heard by jurors Wednesday, Popejoy denied knowing anything about Bonge’s whereabouts, despite repeated concerns expressed by Ottawa County Detective Sgt. Jacob Sparks. Popejoy also expressed surprise that a body was found behind his home, and other than seeing a searcher, whom he thought was a hunter on Dec. 27, he said he didn’t see or hear anything suspicious.
Testimony from Bonge’s family members pointed to conflict between the neighbors with an emphasis on the bad relationship between Bonge and Popejoy’s girlfriend, Rhonda Clark.
During a second interview at Popejoy’s home, detectives Spark and Ann Koster repeatedly noted their desire to interview Clark, who had gone to her daughter’s home.
Also taking the stand Wednesday afternoon were forensic pathologist Dr. David Start, retired detective Steve McCarthy and Detective Michael Tamminga.
Start verified that Bonge died almost instantly from the .22-caliber bullet that entered the back of her head, traveled through her brain and struck her skull.
Ottawa County’s chief medical examiner also said the manner of Bonge’s death was homicide. He could not give a distance for the shooter.
Once Bonge’s body was discovered and search warrants were obtained for both her house and Popejoy’s house and their properties, McCarthy was directed to check a burn barrel behind Popejoy’s home.
McCarthy testified that he found a pair of latex gloves on top of the barrel and a belt buckle and strap as he started to go through the debris.
The barrel was moved to the Sheriff’s Office, where McCarthy said he sifted through its contents and came up with snaps, buttons, zippers and eyelets, much of it appearing to be from Carhartt clothing, he said.
Tamminga located the sled believed to transport Bonge’s body behind Popejoy’s house. The detective said he was searching the detached garage when he saw a plastic camouflage sled with a couple of spots of fresh snow and what looked like blood on it. When he went to notify Sparks, he saw an indentation in the snow, going down to the body, that he believed was from the sled.
On Thursday, jurors will listen to the rest of the audio recording of Popejoy’s second interview before proceeding to the next witness.