Judge rules evidence from Bletsch, kidnapping can be used in Heeringa case

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MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. – One day ahead of a preliminary examination to determine his involvement in the disappearance of Jessica Heeringa, defense attorneys for Jeffrey Willis made a failed attempt to argue against the use of evidence from two other crimes their client is suspected of committing.

“We’re talking about very different events, years apart, that do not show a common plan, scheme or system of acting,” said Willis attorney Brian Hostika in court Monday. “None of those three instances – there’s not that kind of similarity. Nothing so peculiar and uncommon and distinctive that they had to be performed by the same person.”

Hostika was referencing the Michigan Rules of Evidence (§404.B) that outlines use of cross over evidence when a defendant is involved in multiple cases. Willis is facing charges in the case of Heeringa, and also the 2014 murder of Rebekah Bletsch and the alleged abduction of a Muskegon County minor in April of this year.

Hostika asserted the Rules of Evidence bar prosecution from using evidence from the latter two in tomorrow’s preliminary hearing. 60th District Court Judge Raymond Kostrzewa denied the motion.

“The fact that a 16-year-old girl voluntarily gets into a car after being out all night this year, the fact that jogger gets shot while jogging after she neatly stacks up all her belongings on the side of the road, and the fact that a woman – a very troubled young lady who wants to run away, disappears from a gas station in 2013 – are three very different cases. And they do not demonstrate a common act,” said Hostika.

The denial of his motion means Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson will be able to reference evidence from the Bletsch investigation, and the alleged kidnapping – namely the firearm found in Willis’ van during the April incident that was eventually tied to the Bletsch murder through ballistics tests.

“There is, in every – in every case, in every investigation, every case we’ve charged there is a connection. From the gun, to the van, to the description,” said Hilson. “As long as we are able to articulate that proper purpose and we can show that the evidence is relevant to that proper purpose, the law is pretty clear in Michigan that, that evidence is coming in.”

Hilson told FOX 17 that as long as evidence from other cases serves to prove a pattern of behavior, a motive, or a plan over time, it can be admissible in a separate case.

“If the evidence is relevant to show a common plan or scheme or system in doing an act, then it’s coming in. If it’s relevant to show somebody’s identity, then it’s coming in. If it’s relevant to show somebody’s intent, then it’s coming in,” Hilson said.

Willis’ preliminary examination is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday in Muskegon County. Stay connected to FOX 17 on air and online for the latest details.

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