MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Jeffrey Willis has been ordered to stand trial for the kidnapping and murdering of Jessica Heeringa, who vanished more than three years ago.
Judge Raymond Kostrzewa decided Tuesday that there is enough evidence to show that Heeringa, whose body has not been found, is dead and to send the case on to trial.
Heeringa, 25, disappeared from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked on the night of April 26, 2013.
DEFENSE CHALLENGES POLICE INVESTIGATION
The judge’s ruling came on the fourth day of a preliminary hearing, after the defense called its witnesses. The first witness the defense called was Norton Shores Police Department Lt. Michael Kasher, the lead investigator on the Heeringa case.
Defense attorney Brian Hosticka questioned him about Jesse Ammerman, who was a person of interest in the case early on. Hosticka started to ask Kasher about whether Heeringa had a physical relationship with Ammerman, but the judge put a stop to that line of questioning, deciding it was hearsay. Hosticka also brought up the brother of one of Heeringa’s co-workers, who was also a person of interest early on in the investigation.
Kasher said that when he was first assigned to the investigation, he didn’t have experience in a case of its magnitude, so one of his first calls was to Michigan State Police to get help. Kasher said that the Secret Service also assisted in the investigation, but the FBI had “very little, if any, involvement” because there was no proof Heeringa had crossed state lines. In all, Kasher said, his department took about 2,500 tips in the case, about 2,000 of which were closed out through the course of the investigation.
Key pieces evidence that police had at the beginning of the investigation included descriptions and surveillance images of a silver minivan in the area of the gas station around the time of the abduction. They believed that van to be a Chrysler Town & Country. They also found the battery cover of a laser sight for Walther P22 pistol on the ground outside the gas station. In court Tuesday, Kasher said that in the days after the disappearance, the Secret Service cross-checked cellphone usage of people who owned Town & Country minivans in the area. Police, meanwhile, cross-checked owners of Walther P22 pistols who owned Town & Country minivans in Muskegon and Ottawa counties.
Hosticka questioned Kasher about how police handled their first tip they got about Willis in May 2013. Kasher said that tip was ranked “medium” in importance.