GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The trial began Tuesday for the Ottawa County man accused of murdering his neighbor, with whom he had an ongoing dispute.
Authorities say Wendell Popejoy admitted to shooting Sheila Bonge in the back of the head while she was snowblowing on Dec. 26, 2017. He was charged with open murder, so the jury could convict him of either first- or second-degree murder.
In opening statements Tuesday, Ottawa County Prosecutor Ron Frantz said Bonge’s naked body was found covered in snow on Popejoy’s property along 104th Avenue in Crockery Township, east of Grand Haven, on Dec. 28.
Frantz read part of a confession Popejoy wrote after his arrest.
“I went out there, got behind her and shot her,” he said, reading from the document. “I guess it was a cold act. … I’m not really sorry she’s gone.”
Popejoy’s defense attorney Jeff Kortes didn’t disagree with much of what the prosecutor laid out, but asserted that the killing was not premeditated.
Kortes added that Bonge, 59, was known in the community to be a bad neighbor and a bully. Popejoy, he said, “simply snapped” when he saw Bonge was blowing snow onto a neighbor’s property, something witnesses said she did routinely.
“He didn’t plan it,” Kortes told the jury, noting that Popejoy wrote in his confession that the killing happened in the “spur of the moment.”
He asked the jury to find Popejoy guilty of a lesser offense than first-degree murder.
The first witness to take the stand agreed that Bonge was a source of grief in the neighborhood.
“We tried to obtain relief from Sheila any way that we could,” neighbor Mark Meurer said.
He testified about court action he and his neighbors had taken against Bonge in a property dispute over an easement road. Bonge, neighbors said, wanted to claim the entire easement as her own.
Meurer said he didn’t like Bonge and didn’t help in the search for her after family members reported her missing.
Under cross-examination, Meurer was complimentary about Popejoy. He said he would often offer help without being asked.
“He’s a very pleasant neighbor,” he said.
The next witness on the stand was Beth Meurer, who echoed the dislike of Bonge.
“She was a horrible, mean person to me,” she said adding that Bonge would routinely call her vile names and scream at her unprovoked.
She said prior to killing, she and the neighbors talked jokingly with police about the possibility Bonge would “yell herself into a heart attack.” She said she wanted that to happen: “hopefully.”
The third victim on the stand was Bonge’s fiance Wayne Homan, who became emotional when talking about her. He said he didn’t believe Bonge was mean to her neighbors and said Bonge told him they antagonized her.
“She wasn’t like that,” Homan said when asked if other witnesses claims were accurate. “They used to rile her up … Harassing her all the time.”
Trial will resume at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Jurors are expected to hear Popejoy’s own words in taped interviews with police, though it’s not yet clear whether he will take the stand in his own defense.