GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Jeffrey Willis is asking an appeals court to grant him a new trial in the murder of Jessica Heeringa.
Willis is currently serving two life sentences in prison: One for killing Heeringa in 2013 after kidnapping her from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked and the other for killing Rebekah Bletsch while she jogged near her Dalton Township home in 2014. He has maintained he is innocent.
Willis was not in court Tuesday when his court-appointed attorney Anna Rapa argued that character evidence presented to the jury during the Heeringa trial was not appropriate and that information about Willis’ personal life, videos on his computer and Bletsch’s murder were not relevant.
“You’re saying, ‘Oh, because he murdered her, he must be the person who killed and kidnapped Jessica Heeringa.’ Or she must have been killed because Rebekah Bletsch was killed. But that’s not fair because the government has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each of those elements,” Rapa said.
“You are not allowed to use evidence that somebody did something before in order to prove that they did something this time,” she continued. “The courts frown on that because it’s not fair. We don’t want to bring people to trial and convict them because they are a bad person and they always commit crimes, it’s not fair. You have to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every element of this crime.”
Rapa also argued that the trial should have been held outside of Muskegon County, where the jury didn’t have a preconceived ideas about Willis. On Willis’ behalf, she requested a retrial in a different venue.
The state Court of Appeals heard the arguments Tuesday and will issue a written opinion in the coming days.