Underwear evidence disputed in Jeffrey Willis murder case

Ken Kolker and 24 Hour News 8 web staff -

MUSKEGON -- Accused killer Jeffrey Willis was in court Friday, but not for his long-awaited trial in the death of Rebekah Bletsch.

Instead, it was for an argument over one piece of evidence -- a pair of underwear.

Police allege Willis stole the underwear and the murder weapon from another woman's home before killing Bletsch, and before the kidnapping and murder of Jessica Heeringa.

"The admission of the underwear, which contains allegedly the owner's DNA as well as the defendant's DNA, shows his connection, a deeper connection or identity to the weapon itself," Prosecutor D.J. Hilson argued Friday in Muskegon County Circuit court.

Police later found the weapon in Willis' van and the underwear in his shed, Hilson said.

"It also allows us to argue his opportunity to take that weapon in advance of the abduction of Jessica Heeringa, and, more importantly in this case, in advance of the murder of Rebekah Bletsch," Hilson said.

But Willis's attorney, Fred Johnson, argued it was unfair to Willis because it could prejudice the jury.

"It's salacious and it changes the view of the jury. And the jury is going to start questioning my client's morality and other issues not related at all to the charges," Johnson said.

A judge is expected to rule soon whether the underwear can be allowed as evidence during the Bletsch trial.

>>App users: Watch Friday's court hearing here.

Willis' first trial for Bletsch's murder is set to begin Oct. 17. He's accused of shooting her in June 2014 while she was out for a jog near her home in northern Muskegon County.

Willis is also awaiting trial in the 2013 kidnapping and murder of Heeringa, who disappeared from a Norton Shores gas station. Her body has never been found. He's also accused of trying to kidnap a teenage girl last year.

In court Friday, Willis was noticeably thinner than he was when arrested 15 months ago.

"Jail food," his attorney said.

But his attorney said Willis is prepared to defend himself.

"He's holding up and I think you saw him today. He looks healthy enough and he's ready for his day in court. He's ready," Johnson said.

This was the first hearing in the case since a judge granted a defense motion to delay the trial against Willis in the Bletsch case on Aug. 4.

The trial was originally scheduled to start in June. It was then pushed back to September and then delayed another month.

Willis' attorney filed a motion to remove the prosecutor from the case. Johnson cited conflict of interest concerns when the Muskegon County Prosecutor's Office hired Willis' previous attorney, Brian Hosticka. A judge denied that motion earlier this month.

Willis' trial for Bletsch's murder is expected to last 12 days.

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