MUSKEGON, Mich. - Jury selection began Tuesday for the trial of Jeffrey Willis, charged with the murder of Rebekah Bletsch.
Willis is accused of killing Rebekah Bletsch, 36, while she was jogging on a Muskegon County road in June 2014 about a mile from her home. Willis was arrested in 2016 after he allegedly abducted a 16-year-old girl who testified she escaped as Willis pointed a gun at her.
Police searches of Willis' van led investigators to the gun they say was used to murder Bletsch. Since his arrest, Willis was also charged with the kidnapping and murder of Jessica Heeringa, a mother in Muskegon who has been missing since April 2013.
Jury selection Tuesday moved along methodically and slowly, but methodically. 326 potential jurors were summoned for the trial and as of 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, seven had been interviewed. By 4:00 p.m. about a dozen had been interviewed. Earlier this week, the prosecution and defense said they thought the jury selection process would take two days, though timing is difficult to predict.
Last week, Judge William Marietti held off on ruling on a defense motion to move the trial to a different venue, due to the high-profile nature of the case. He said he wanted to see if they could seat an unbiased jury in Muskegon County, hence this large jury pool.
Prospective jurors were given a written questionnaire when they arrived Tuesday morning. As selection wrapped Tuesday, attorneys say they expect to begin questioning 67 further prospective jurors Wednesday, and are calling three people back for continued questioning Thursday.
Former Muskegon County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Brett Gardner spoke to FOX 17 regarding the nature of this case, calling the jury selection process "an art" but stressful. In his nearly three decades serving the county he says he was able to successfully seat a fair jury while trying high-profile cases. Specifically Gardner referred to the trial against Bartley James Dobben:
"I tried a very high-profile case back in 1989, had a lot of jurors come in, and just about everybody had formulated an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the individual," said Gardner.
"But, when they were questioned by the lawyers, when they were questioned by the judge, would they be able to set that opinion aside and be fair to the defendant, and base their decisions solely on the evidence, they were able to say they were. And I think we did seat a fair jury and had a fair verdict."
We'll have updates throughout the trial on FOX 17 News.