Jeffrey Willis defense seeks to remove judge from case

Jeffrey Willis, the man charged with kidnapping and killing Jessica Heeringa, wants a new judge to preside over his case.

MUSKEGON, MICH. - A motion to determine whether the judge in the Jeffrey Willis case is qualified to oversee is likely to be determined in the coming weeks. 

Willis' attorney earlier this month asked Judge Raymond Kostrzewa to step aside because he used to work in the Muskegon County prosecutor's office during the Jessica Heeringa murder investigation. A decision on this latest motion has not been set, according to a court official Tuesday, Oct. 18.

A judge from outside Muskegon County will be assigned to review the motion and make a decision, they said.

Court documents filed Tuesday from one of Willis' attorneys in the Muskegon County Public Defender's office reads Kostrzewa should be removed as he was the chief trial attorney for the prosecutor's office and "likely acquired personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary issues ... " about the Heeringa case. 

In addition, documents say Kostrzewa told those involved in the Willis case he had "attended briefings regarding that investigation while he was Chief Trial Attorney." Willis' defenders argue although the judge said he can set aside any bias, "the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to avoid even the appearance of impropriety."

The judge earlier said he was not involved in the Heeringa investigation and refused to step aside. 

Willis' attorneys also filed a motion to bar the press and public from attending Willis' preliminary hearing -- a hearing that normally is open to all. A hearing on that motion has been delayed. 

WZZM 13 and other media outlets in West Michigan ask that the defense's request to close the hearing be denied.

Willis also is facing charges in two other cases: the fatal shooting of a 36-year-old female jogger in 2014 and the April attempted abduction of a teenage girl.

(© 2016 WZZM)


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