Popejoy murder trial set to begin Oct. 9

Becky Vargo • Oct 4, 2018 at 11:00 AM

An Ottawa County man is scheduled to go on trial next week for fatally shooting his neighbor while she was blowing snow late last year.

And a confession written by Wendell Earl Popejoy, 64, will be allowed as evidence in the trial, despite a defense request to suppress the document. Ottawa County Circuit Judge Karen Miedema denied the motion to suppress the confession in an opinion released Tuesday.

Popejoy is charged with the murder of 59-year-old Sheila Bonge, who lived at 14961 104th Ave. in Crockery Township. That is next door to his residence, although he is listed as a Coopersville resident. 

When Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office detectives were interviewing him, Popejoy admitted killing Bonge, according to court documents. During the interview, Popejoy said he saw Bonge outside his residence Dec. 26, 2017. She was blowing snow from the easement driveway in front of his home.

“Wendell stated that he had made the decision when he saw Sheila to kill her,” the document says. “He then grabbed a gun from his home; he went out to the easement where Sheila was blowing snow. Wendell stated that he went up behind Sheila and shot her in the back of the head and disposed of her body behind the residence.”

Bonge was reported missing the next day, Dec. 27. Her body was found Dec. 28 in the snow behind Popejoy’s house.

During the preliminary examination Jan. 24, testimony revealed that there was an ongoing dispute between the neighbors regarding a driveway easement.

Also during the hearing, Ottawa County Detective Ann Koster testified that Popejoy admitted putting Bonge’s body on a sled and taking it down the hill behind his house. He removed Bonge’s clothing and burned it, Koster said. Popejoy then hid the gun in his garage, but later removed it and threw it in the Grand River off the 68th Avenue Bridge in Eastmanville, the detective said.

Popejoy has been lodged at the Ottawa County Jail without bond since his arrest.

In a hearing Sept. 21, Popejoy’s defense attorney argued that Miranda warnings were improperly given to his client. Even if they were proper, the attorney said Popejoy’s confession was not voluntary. 

After consulting transcripts, Miedema ruled that detectives did give Popejoy a reason for the questioning that night.

“Defendant is incorrect,” the judge wrote in her opinion. “In fact, Detective Tamminga did tell the defendant the reason for the interrogation.”

In her opinion, Miedema noted that Popejoy accompanied detectives of his own free will, although no physical arrest was made at that time.

The detective also told Popejoy that, because of the type of investigation that was happening, he didn’t have to talk to them. Thus, the detective effectively advised Popejoy of his right to remain silent, the judge wrote.

Miedema also noted that Popejoy was told that, if the case ended up in court, anything he said in the interview could be used against him, and that he had the right to speak to an attorney.

The judge also addressed the issue of whether or not Popejoy’s interview and confession was voluntary. She ruled that it was, noting that he was educated enough, was not injured, drugged or deprived of food, sleep or medical attention. 

Although Popejoy claimed he was tired several times throughout the night, by watching the video, Miedema said, “It is clear that the defendant was alert and able to communicate.”

“The DVD reveals that, over the course of the interrogation, the tone and demeanor of the two detectives were reasonable,” Miedema wrote. “In fact, both detectives were patient and professional.”

After giving a written and verbal confession of shooting the victim, the defendant was asked how he was treated by the detectives, the judge noted. Popejoy replied to the detectives, “You kept me entertained.”

The trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday, Oct. 9.

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