Prosecutor: Heeringa case not over despite Willis’ murder conviction

Posted at 6:08 PM, May 17, 2018

MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. -- It took less than two hours for jurors to find Jeffrey Willis guilty in the murder of Jessica Heeringa, but even with Willis going to prison the prosecutor said the work continues.

"This case isn't over. I will not feel closure until we do find her," Muskegon County prosecutor DJ Hilson said.

Hilson said investigators continued to follow up on leads during the trial in regards to her possible whereabouts. He isn’t counting on Willis to give up the location, but he said the two-time convicted killer likely isn’t the only person who knows where Heeringa is.

"I've always thought and I still believe Mr. Bluhm has details about where we might find Jessica Heeringa and why he has chosen not to cooperate and help us in that matter... that's on him," Hilson said.

But the lack of direct evidence proving Heeringa’s death didn’t stop jurors from finding Willis guilty. Hilson said that’s thanks to a unique web of three cases against Willis including Heeringa, the murder of Rebekah Bletsch and the abduction of teenager MJN.

Willis' defense attorney Fred Johnson said, "I've never had anything like this my entire career."

Johnson said he thought it would be insensitive to call Jessica's mother, Shelly, to testify even though she shares his sentiment that there's no proof Jessica is dead. In fact, Shelly Heeringa has continued to express that believes her daughter is still alive.

Johnson said, "I hope she's right."

He added, "The jury decided that she's not, but you were there. You saw the evidence. There was never a physical body produced and so as long as that's the situation, hope remains alive and I'm not going to tell somebody's mother to give up."

Hilson said, "As a parent myself, I can certainly understand why she'd have those feelings."

The prosecutor added, "As much as we want to hope that Jessica is still alive, the evidence was painting a picture that she's clearly deceased."

Willis' sentencing is June 12th. You may recall Willis walked out during the victim impact statements at his sentencing for killing Rebekah Bletsch. As a result, legislation requiring defendants sit through those impact statements recently passed at the Capitol but still requires the Governor's signature. Hilson believes the judge will do what he needs to do to make sure Willis doesn't go anywhere this time.