Judge denies Jeffrey Willis' defense request to bar public from Heeringa case

Jeffrey Willis' request to close his court proceedings to the public and the media has been denied.

MUSKEGON, MICH. - The preliminary hearing regarding Jeffrey Willis' alleged involvement in Jessica Heeringa's death will be open to the public and press. 

Muskegon County Judge Raymond Kostrzewa decided Wednesday, Nov. 30, not to close the hearing -- a typically open process where the prosecutor gives the judge a portion of the evidence that could be used at a future trial only if the judge is persuaded the evidence is substantial -- citing applicable case law and the First Amendment.

In part, "[T]his court respectfully denies the defendant's request to close the preliminary examination to the public and the press."

Willis' defense argued media coverage has been negative, and an open hearing could taint the jury pool in the Muskegon County before a possible trial.

Willis is accused of the kidnapping and murder of Heeringa, who disappeared in April 2013.

Lawyers representing numerous different media outlets, including WZZM 13, attended an earlier hearing to argue the hearing stay open.

"I'm glad the judge chose to keep open an important part of the legal process," said Taz Painter, WZZM 13 news director.

Defense attorneys also tried to have the judge removed from the case entirely because he worked for the Muskegon County Prosecutor's Office. That motion also was denied.

Willis also is accused in the 2014 murder of Rebekah Bletsch and the attempted kidnapping of a teenager.

(© 2016 WZZM)


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