MUSKEGON, Mich. - The preliminary hearing for the man accused of killing Jessica Heeringa began Tuesday.
Jeffrey Willis is accused of killing the gas station clerk who has not been seen since April 2013. She disappeared from the Exxon station on Sternberg Road while working the night shift.
Willis was arrested this spring after allegedly abducting a teen girl. That girl got away, but investigators found evidence in his home and vehicle that allegedly ties him to Heeringa's disappearance. Willis has also been charged with the 2014 murder of Rebekah Bletsch.
The hearing that is underway is to determine if there is enough evidence to bring Willis to trial.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the girl who Willis allegedly tried to abduct in April 2016 took the stand. She jumped from Willis' van after he pointed a gun at her. She testified that she was lost and Willis offered to give her a ride home. The girl's escape eventually led police to Willis and the discovery of the evidence in the Rebekah Bletsch murder and the Jessica Heeringa disappearance.
In earlier afternoon testimony, Cpl. Hoeksema with the Norton Shores Police testified about investigating the scene of the gas station. He says he found two small batteries, part of a laser scope and the blood stains that were traced back to Jessica. He says he found a battery cover that the type of cover that would be used on a Walther handgun, which was the type of gun found in Willis' possession in 2016.
Another officer, Cpl. Chris Hare testified that he visited Willis just days after Heeringa disappeared on a tip. He said that they checked Willis' van and it was clean and that Willis had told him that he had been going to his mother's home for wood. The alibi checked out.
Carl Wauer also testified in the afternoon about how he and Willis played poker and Magic the Gathering card game during 2013.
In the morning session, the first witness called by prosecutor D.J. Hilson was Brenda Nester, a former employee at the gas station. She testified that she saw Willis at the gas station on the night the Jessica disappeared, April 26, 2013. She testified that she recognized Willis after TV reports of his arrest for the abduction in 2016 were shown. She also testified that Jessica was acting a little different that day as well.
The second witness, Dakota Quail-Dyer, was Heeringa's boyfriend at the time of her disappearance. He is also the father of Heeringa's son. He testified that Jessica wouldn't run away. Hilson asked Quail-Dyer if he had anything to do with her disappearance and he said 'no.'
Willis' attorney, Bryan Hostika, questioned Quail-Dyer about relationship issues that the two had and drug usage by both of them.
Also testifying Tuesday morning, Eric Barber and Susan Follett, who rode by the station that night on their motorcycle. Follett was an employee and saw the silver mini-van that is now thought to have been Willis'. They saw the mini-van leave and the driver looked right at them like nothing was wrong. She had had complaints that Jessica would hang out outside the back of the station with others.
Just before lunch, Craig Harpster testified how he stopped at the station that night and found no one inside. He saw a purse and a coat, but no employees. He called 911 and that call was played in court.
The hearing will resume Friday at 9 a.m.