MUSKEGON, Mich. --The murder trial for Jeffrey Willis began Thursday, more than three years after Rebekah Blestch was found shot dead while jogging near her Muskegon County home.
A 12-person jury and two alternates were chosen Thursday afternoon after a two-and-a-half day jury selection process. In total, 326 people were summoned to possibly serve on this trial.
Thursday, five witnesses were called including Michelle Klint, who found Bletsch still breathing on the side of the road after she was shot in the head. Though she didn't recognize Bletsch at first, she was her neighbor, a registered nurse, and says Bletsch was her daughter's basketball coach. When Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson played the frantic 911 call Klint's husband made June 29, 2014, Klint teared up on the stand while Bletsch's family sat together, some listening with their heads lowered.
During opening statements, Hilson told the jury they will also hear testimony from the 16-year-old girl who says she escaped after being abducted by Willis in April 2016. Officials say she jumped out of his silver minivan when she asked to use his phone, but he instead pulled out a gun.
Hilson also previewed some key evidence that will be used in the trial, including "rape capture kill videos" he says investigators found on Willis' hard drives.
"What you're going to see and hear is going to shock and rock your world," Hilson said Thursday in court.
"One of the more disturbing things investigators found, that you will hear and see, is that [Willis] had a rather large collection of rape capture kill videos: not one, not two, several hundred."
The jury then heard from Willis' defense attorney, Muskegon County's Chief Public Defender Fred Johnson. This is the first time we're learning the defense's strategy in this trial: accusing Willis' cousin, Kevin Bluhm, of shooting and killing Rebekah Bletsch.
Johnson says Bletsch and Bluhm knew each other because their kids played soccer together, and that Bluhm was possible acquaintances with Bletsch's husband. He went on to say Bluhm was "Facebook stalking" Bletsch.
"We believe that Mr. Bluhm had both the motive and the opportunity to do this shooting, and that he is in fact the person who did," Johnson said. "And that he is in fact the person who returns materials that he's taken form his cousin back to where he found them, after he'd used them and has left his cousin here to carry the weight."
Bluhm also previously pleaded guilty to lying to police about outstanding investigations, including the murder of Jessica Heeringa.
This trial is expected to last about three weeks. Testimony will resume Friday at 1:30 p.m.