MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The lawyer defending the man charged with murdering Jessica Heeringa has lost his bid to get a new judge in the case.
Jeffrey Willis was in court Monday for the hearing. His defense lawyer asked for a different judge because he said Judge Raymond Kostrzewa worked in the prosecutor’s office before 2014, which created an “appearance of impropriety.”
However, Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson said Kostrzewa was never involved in the Heeringa case, which the judge confirmed.
The defense lawyer admitted he had no personal knowledge to support the judge was involved in the Heeringa case while working in the prosecutor’s office.
Kostrzewa said he “respectfully declined” to grant the defense’s request to step down from the Heeringa case and rescheduled Willis’ preliminary hearing for Oct. 25. It’s anticipated that court proceeding could take all day.
Last month, Willis was charged with open murder for the death of Heeringa, who disappeared from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked on April 26, 2013.
According to a 16-page affidavit, the charges were based on Willis’ credit card and phone records, which placed him at the gas station the same day she vanished.
Police said the phone records also showed Willis called his house while in the area of his grandfather’s house. That house is where Willis’ cousin said he discovered Heeringa’s body, according to a police interview. The cousin, Kevin Bluhm, recanted his story, but authorities now believe he was telling the truth.
After his arrest, ballistics testing matched a gun found in his silver minivan to the one used in the June 2014 killing of Rebekah Bletsch in Dalton Township. As a result, he was charged with her murder.
Also found in Willis’ van: handcuffs, rope, syringes, and images of bound and gagged women. When investigators searched his computers and hard drives, they found necrophilia and “kidnap and kill” videos downloaded from the internet — some of which were acted out and some of which were real.
Investigators said on Willis’ computer they also found a file labeled “VICS” (short for victims) that contained a folder labeled with Bletsch’s initials and a code for the date of her death.
It contained photos of Bletsch and wanted posters from the case. A police source told 24 Hour News 8 there was a file bearing Heeringa’s name.