Jury selection in Willis trial enters fourth day

Posted at 8:52 AM, May 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-04 11:30:18-04

MUSKEGON, Mich.-- Five years after a young, West Michigan mother went missing in the middle of the night, the family of Jessica Heeringa will see the man accused of kidnapping and allegedly murdering her head to trial.

However, it's taking a little longer to seat a jury as potential jurors continue to be dismissed for admitting that they just can't separate their opinions about the case from the evidence that will be presented during the trial.

"This individual, Mr. Willis, is a monster," said county prosecutor D.J. Hilson. "I wouldn't let any of my children around, much less any female, around."  Strong words from officials about the man connected to two unsolved crimes haunting the area for several years.

It started back in April, 2013 when a customer noticed no one running the register of the Exxon Mobile gas station in Norton Shores.

Surveillance video at a nearby business captured images of a silver mini van matching the description of the one seen parked outside the gas station the night Heeringa went missing.

Searches and desperate pleas for tips continued for years with no answers.

Mid-April of 2016, a 16 year-old girl got lost trying to find her way home when she was approached by a man in a mini van. She told police he offered to let her use his cell phone and give her a ride. But, things took a dangerous turn.

"Because when I asked for the phone he said it was dead,the teen would later tell a courtroom during one of Willis' hearings.

"He was just staring at me. And, he slowed down and that`s when he reached for a gun and pointed it at me. And I jumped out."

Her brave escape eventually led to some answers for investigators, who tied Willis to the crime.

As detectives delved further into his past, they uncovered a mountain of evidence as they searched two homes that belonged to Willis.

While investigators remained tight-lipped about what they found inside, they named Willis a person of interest in Heeringa's disappearance, and the prime suspect in an unsolved murder of Rebecca Bletsch in 2014. Willis was recently convicted in that case and is currently serving life behind bars.

While it was a chance for closure for one family, another family was still left with many questions.

During their investigation, detectives also focused on Willis' cousin, Kevin Bluhm, who told investigators he helped dispose of Heeringa's body. Bluhm later recanted his story and pleaded guilty to lying to police.

A few months later, prosecutors would charge Willis with the kidnapping and alleged murder of Jessica Heeringa, although her body has never been found.