Muskegon County

Jurors hear strongest evidence linking Willis to Bletsch

Judge delays testimony to review Kevin Bluhm police statement

Barton Deiters and 24 Hour News 8 web staff -

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) -- Testimony in the murder trial of Jeffrey Willis ended abruptly Friday after the defense called the man they're trying to pin Rebekah Bletsch's murder on.

Kevin Bluhm invoked his Fifth Amendment right to protect against self-incrimination and did not testify. He was the first witness defense attorney Fred Johnson called to build his case.

Willis, 47, is charged with murdering Bletsch, who was shot and killed while jogging down a road in June 2014.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Day 6 of testimony blog | Complete coverage of the Jeffrey Willis investigation

His defense attorney told Judge William Marietti that Bluhm's statement to police would help show Bluhm was involved in Bletsch's murder. However, prosecutor D.J. Hilson said because Bluhm lied to police, his statement is hearsay and worthless.

The judge ended testimony for the day, saying he needs to review Bluhm's hourslong interview with police to see what, if any part is relevant to the case.

Marietti pointed out in court Friday that there is no evidence so far that Bluhm had anything to do with Bletsch's murder. In testimony earlier this week, investigators said Bluhm had an alibi that checked out. And Thursday, a DNA expert said none of the evidence he examined matched Bluhm.

A DNA MATCH

Friday morning, jurors heard about the strongest evidence linking Bletsch to Willis.

Michelle Schmitt with the Michigan State Police testified a swabbing of a sex toy and glove found in Willis' van had DNA that matched Bletsch. Johnson said the DNA mix she found on the sex toy was 4,600 times more likely to have originated from Bletsch than another person, and the DNA on the glove's exterior was 90 quadrillion times more likely to be from Bletsch than someone else.

Schmitt's testimony marked the first direct DNA link to Willis and Bletsch. A ballistics expert Thursday testified that rounds found at the murder scene and bullet fragments found in Bletsch's body matched the Carl Walther P22 gun found in Willis minivan. Another DNA expert testified that the trigger, muzzle and slide on that same gun tested positive for Willis' DNA.

Willis' defense attorney again questioned the accuracy of DNA collection and testing, asking why the victim's DNA wasn't found on her own sunglasses and earbuds. Schmitt said they only tested a 31-inch section of the headphone cord - not the earbuds themselves. She also explained that someone wearing gloves may not leave behind DNA, and environmental factors like extreme sunlight, rain and snow and bleach would also eliminate DNA.

>>Photos: Inside the courtroom during Day 6 of Willis trial testimony

THE DELAY

Friday afternoon, it was the defense's turn. Johnson called Bluhm, who is Willis' cousin and former friend, to the stand. But Bluhm is already facing a felony accessory charge in the alleged murder of Jessica Heeringa, so he refused to testify.

With the jury still out of the room, Willis' defense attorney then told the judge he wanted to introduce an 18-hour long recording of a police interview with Bluhm.

The prosecution objected and a clearly unhappy judge chastised the defense for springing this evidence so late in the proceedings.

Marietti said he needs the weekend to go through the 300-plus page transcript and decide if it is admissible. It's a delay that could throw off the court's previous expectations of beginning jury deliberations Tuesday.

Jurors were grim-faced as they left the court Friday, facing a long weekend and a possibly longer trial.

The curveball also delivered disappointment to Bletsch's family.

"Frustration, is the biggest. We're very anxious to get this going, to move forward," said Bletsch's sister, Jessica Josephson.

"This is a tactic to maybe throw some doubt in the mind as they tried in the opening statement," added Bletsch's uncle, Tim Donkin.

But they still believe the facts are on their side.

"That evidence certainly is irrefutable. The science is the science," Donkin said. "It's very unfortunate to all involved that this has to go on; and (it) just shows the weakness to me of the defense's position."

"I just… I hope and pray that we have the verdict we've been waiting for," Josephson said.

We should know Monday whether this case will start again Tuesday morning or whether it will be further delayed.

>>App users: Interactive timeline of Willis investigation

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