MUSKEGON (WWJ/AP) – A trial has been delayed until May for a man charged in the 2013 disappearance of a western Michigan gas station clerk.
A Muskegon County Circuit Court Judge William Marietti on Friday granted a motion by Jeffrey Willis’ lawyer to adjourn the trial that had been scheduled for March.
Willis faces murder and kidnapping charges in the April 2013 disappearance of Jessica Heeringa from the gas station where she worked in Norton Shores. Her body hasn’t been found.
Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson opposed the delay, saying the trial will be similar to one that took place last year in which Willis was convicted of killing jogger Rebekah Bletsch in 2014. Willis is serving a life sentence for shooting Bletsch.
Defense lawyer Frederick Johnson said more time was needed in part to get a transcript from that trial.
Willis has denied having anything to do with Heeringa’s disappearance, which gained national attention.
Heeringa hasn’t been seen since just before she was closing up an Exxon Station where she worked 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.
Willis’ cousin Kevin Bluhm pleaded no contest last year to being an accessory after the fact of murder in Heeringa’s death.
© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.