MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A juror said he wasn’t initially certain Jeffrey Willis kidnapped Jessica Heeringa from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked in April 2013 and killed her, but as Willis’ trial wore on, it became clear that he was guilty.
“I’d be surprised if it doesn’t stick with me till the day I die,” the jurors, who didn’t want to be identified, told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday. “Just the magnitude of what this is for this community … it’s a tough thing for everybody.”
At the end of his trial last month, it took the jury 90 minutes to convict Willis. The juror said he’s “confident” they made the right decision.
“Ultimately, we made a decision based on evidence that was presented during this trial and for no other reason was Jeffrey Willis found guilty,” the juror said.
The juror says he listened to days of evidence and testimony before making up his mind. He wondered at one point if the prosecutor, relying on 201 pieces of circumstantial evidence in the absence of DNA or ballistics, would connect all the dots.
“It really became like this Lego set that you start to put together,” he said. “I don’t honestly know if there was one piece (of evidence that convinced me), but I do believe that the gun sight cover in behind the gas station and knowing full well that the gun had actually been in Jeffrey’s hands, I think that that was a big part of it that allowed us to make the step forward.”
He said he was also swayed by a demonstration on the stand when a gun expert fit the broken battery cover on the sight, which attached to the gun found in Willis’ silver minivan. It was also important that Willis’ minivan matched the one seen in surveillance photos around the time of Heeringa’s disappearance.
>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the Willis investigation
Jurors started deliberation after six days of testimony and attorney statements.
“(There were) at least three, maybe four people that weren’t totally on board yet in terms of a guilty (verdict),” the juror said. “They wanted to hear more information, which made me feel pretty good as a fellow juror because that still just reaffirmed that everybody came here with an open mind.”
He said those jurors thought pieces were missing:
“I think they were trying to figure out how to connect Jeffrey to Jessica. I think that some of them may have lost track of some of the evidence,” he said.
He said that once they were reminded, they also came to the conclusion that Willis was guilty.
“We believe that the guilty verdict was right,” he said.
Willis will be sentenced to life in prison Monday. It remains to be seen whether anyone from the Heeringa family will show up or speak during victim impact statements. Family members still believe Heeringa, whose body has never been found, is alive and none of them attended the trial.
Willis is already serving life in prison for the murder of Rebekah Bletsch, a mother of three who was shot and killed while jogging near her Dalton Township home in June 2014. Willis was convicted of her murder in November 2017.
>>App users: Interactive timeline of Willis investigation