Judge denies request to step down from Heeringa murder case

Jeffrey Willis' next court hearing scheduled for Oct. 25

Jeffrey Willis, Jessica Heeringa
Left: Jeffrey Willis. (June 22, 2016) Right: Jessica Heeringa (Undated courtesy photo).

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 in court for Jessica Heeringa case
Jeffrey Willis appears next to his defense lawyer during a Oct. 3 hearing in which they requested 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.

>>PDF: Criminal complaint against Jeffrey Willis

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.

Muskegon Township, attempted abduction, jeffrey willis
An undated courtesy photo of the scrapes that a 16-year-old girl sustained when she jumped from a moving minivan to escape an alleged attempted kidnapper.

Willis was charged in May with kidnapping and assault with a dangerous weapon in connection to the attempted abduction of a 16-year-old girl in Fruitland Township in April.

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.

A photo of Jeffrey Willis' van in police evidence. (Undated)
A photo of Jeffrey Willis’ van in police evidence. (Undated)

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.

Rebekah Bletsch (Source: Facebook)
Rebekah Bletsch (Source: Facebook)

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.

Willis has also been charged with felonies for the creation and possession of child pornography and for videotaping unclothed underage girls without their knowledge.


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