Separate Trial Begins For Suspect In Jessica Heeringa Gas Station Disappearance

MUSKEGON (WWJ/AP) – Jurors in western Michigan have heard opening statements in the trial of a man who is charged with killing a jogger, a case that was cold until he was arrested two years later in a different investigation.

Jeffrey Willis is accused of shooting Rebekah Bletsch in 2014 in Muskegon County’s Dalton Township. Investigators say bullets matched a gun found in his vehicle.

Prosecutor D.J. Hilson told jurors Thursday that Bletsch’s DNA was found on a glove belonging to Willis. But defense attorney Fred Johnson says evidence points to another man.

Willis was arrested in 2016 after a teenager said he tried to kidnap her. That arrest led to charges in Bletsch’s death as well as the death of gas station clerk Jessica Heeringa. Her body hasn’t been found.

Heeringa’s disappearance received nationwide attention. She hasn’t been seen since just before she was closing up an Exxon Station where she worked in Norton Shores on April 26, 2013. Her body has not been found, but investigators believe she was killed within 24 to 48 hours of her abduction. Willis was formally tied to the case in May 2016.

Investigators have said they think Heeringa was taken against her will by someone she likely knew. There was no indication of a robbery, as her purse, vehicle and other items were left behind at the scene. DNA testing showed a small amount of blood found outside the gas station belonged to Heeringa.

Investigators have said Willis’ van resembles a vehicle seen by witnesses parked behind the gas station on the night Heeringa went missing. Hilson said Willis’ van was even searched in the days following Heeringa’s disappearance, but “there was nothing at that point in time to suggest at all that he was involved in any criminal activity.”

When Willis’ van was searched again following his arrest in Bletsch’s death, investigators found a pistol, ammunition, syringes with liquid, a ball gag, chains, a mask and a bar with wrist restraints inside the vehicle. Child pornography and videos of bound women were also found in his home.

© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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