MUSKEGON, Mich. — Attorneys narrowed the jury pool to about 50 potential jurors as they began a third day of questioning Thursday morning in the trial of Jeffrey Willis, charged with open murder of Rebekah Bletsch. The 14-person jury was selected by 12:20 p.m., with the trial beginning at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
The voir dire process is different in this high-profile murder case, to which Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson told the jury pool Thursday, “this is my first time doing voir dire this way” in 18 years of working for Muskegon County.
In total, 326 people were summoned to possibly serve for this trial. Within two days, the pool was built to about 50 people who continued into advanced questioning. Beforehand, jurors were escorted individually into the courtroom for questioning, after completing a written questionnaire.
Thursday morning, a group of 14 prospective jurors sat in the jury box as both Hilson and Muskegon County Chief Public Defender Fred Johnson questioned the group as a whole. The remaining pool sat in Judge William Marietti’s courtroom actively listening.
Hilson asked prospective jurors several questions including: have they ever had any contact with the office of the prosecutor or public defender? Have they had any negative contact with law enforcement? And do they have any concerns with exposure to graphic content during this trial?
Hilson went on to explain that circumstantial evidence is “just as good as direct evidence” as it will be introduced in this trial. He told the jury pool that he will argue Willis committed one of three theories: first-degree murder, felony murder, or intent to kill or do great bodily harm.
Then, Johnson questioned the 14 in the jury box, explaining trial processes and rules, namely: evidence in a trial comes from the witnesses’ sworn testimony. Johnson continued to explain he and Willis have no burden of proof, and Willis not taking the stand is no admission of guilt.
Johnson stressed to the jury pool: they will learn Willis is involved in sexual things that you may not agree with; however, Willis is not on trial for his sexual morality. While he was explaining this, Bletsch’s father notably shook his head for an extended moment while listening.
Stay with FOX 17 as this trial gets underway.