Willis’ defense wants judge removed from Heeringa case

Jeffrey Willis accused of murdering Jessica Heeringa in 2013

Jeffrey Willis, Judge Raymond Kostrzewa
Muskegon County Judge Raymond Kostrzewa speaks with Jeffrey Willis and his attorney during a hearing in Muskegon. (File)

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Jeffrey Willis’ defense attorney has filed a motion to disqualify Judge Raymond Kostrzewa from hearing the murder case of Jessica Heeringa.

Willis is charged with kidnapping Heeringa, 25, from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked and murdering her in April 2013. Her body has not been found.

The defense had already asked Kostrzewa to recuse himself because he worked in the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office before 2014. The judge denied the request, saying he was never involved in the Heeringa case.

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

The defense is asking the State Court Administrative Office in Lansing to assign a judge to hear its motion to remove Kostrzewa. The case is now on hold while that office decides if it will appoint a judge and, if so, which judge will be selected.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the Willis case

The defense previously also asked the judge to bar the media and the public from attending Willis’ preliminary hearing. Willis’ attorney argued an open courtroom will invite attention that could deprive his client of a fair trial by an impartial jury.

During preliminary hearings, the prosecution presents evidence and testimony and the judge determines if there is enough evidence to sustain the charges and send the case to trial. Such hearings are almost always open to the media and the public. 24 Hour News 8 and other media organizations are opposing the defense’s request. A hearing on that motion was originally scheduled for Wednesday morning but has been delayed as the motion regarding the judge is dealt with.

In addition to the charges in the Heeringa case, Willis, 46, of Muskegon Township, is accused of murdering 36-year-old Rebekah Bletsch in June 2014. He’s also accused of kidnapping a 16-year-old girl in April of this year. The teen was able to escape, and it was her report that led investigators to Willis. He was arrested in May.