Potential challenge of finding unbiased jurors if Jeffrey Willis heads to trial

Questions about jury if Willis goes to trial

MUSKEGON, MICH. - The major developments in the murder of Jessica Heeringa are now raising questions about a potential jury in the case.

It's a case that's captured national attention and people are talking about it all across West Michigan, but legal experts say it could be challenging finding unbiased jurors if and when the case goes to trial. 

If finding a verdict was anything like choosing breakfast at Mr. B's Pancake House, then the people we talked to might be ordering the same dish. 

"I would probably see him guilty," customer Ron Zok said.

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Says David Barlass, "I'm assuming he's probably the murderer."

Anyone, Frederick Monroe says, "I think he was demon possessed and he does evil things.

That's if they were asked to be on a jury to decide the fate of Jeffrey Willis, charged in the murder of Jessica Heeringa.

"I don't think I would be fair about it," Barlass said.

Said Chelsea Vink: "I don't think I would be a great jury member just because I do have my biases about and my opinions about the whole situation."

Criminal defense attorney, Brett Gardner, gave his thoughts about the potential challenge of finding the right jurors amid this case. He was a local prosecutor for nearly 30 years.

"Pretrial publicity can taint a jury pool," Gardner said.

Gardner says he's handled high-profile cases in the past. 

"While it took a long time to get jurors that agreed to be fair and impartial, we were able to sit a jury that was," Gardner said. "The standard is whether they can put any feelings aside of prejudice and sit as a juror and presume the defendant innocent until proven guilty."

Despite Monroe's earlier comments, he believes he could be a fair juror.

"I deal in the truth, but I also recognize evil needs to be dealt with as well," Monroe said.

Willis' preliminary hearing is scheduled for later this month, and that will decide whether the case goes to trial.

Gardner says he anticipates there will be a motion to change venue for the trial, but he believes there's a strong likelihood it will remain in Muskegon.

(© 2016 WZZM)


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