A judge on Friday denied a request to have the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office disqualified from the upcoming Jeffrey Willis murder trial because it recently hired the accused killer's lead attorney.
Defense attorney Brian Hosticka last month accepted a position in the prosecutor’s office. He had been working for the Muskegon County Office of Public Defender.
Could the job change give the prosecutor’s office an unfair advantage in the upcoming trial? Muskegon County Public Defender Frederick D. Johnson asked a judge to weigh in.
“Both the prosecutor and Mr. Hosticka are above reproach; it’s the unintentional, accidental release of information or strategy that causes concern,’’ Johnson said.
Muskegon County Circuit Court Judge William C. Marietti on Aug. 4 decided that Hosticka’s job change wasn’t enough to have the prosecutor’s office sidelined from the upcoming murder trial.
The judge granted a 30-day delay in the trial, which was slated to begin Sept. 12.
“Quite honestly it was my intention to have the court take a look at it,’’ Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson said. “I knew what the law was, I knew what my ethical responsibilities were and I knew that it didn’t create a conflict.’’
Hilson says Hosticka will work in the Family Court division and will have no role in the Willis case.
“Whatever Mr. Hosticka knows or doesn’t know really plays no part in my preparation and my ability to win and try this case,’’ Hilson said.
Willis is accused in the June, 2014 shooting death of Rebekah Bletsch. Her body was found on the side of Automobile Road in Muskegon County’s Dalton Township.
Hilson said he agreed to the 30-day delay to give the Willis legal team more time to prepare due to Hosticka’s departure.
“For me, that just gives me an extra 30 days to put it together,’’ Hilson said. “But whether I had that or not, I was ready to go in September.’’
The trial will now get underway in mid-October, Hilson said.
Willis is also accused in the abduction and murder of gas station clerk Jessica Heeringa in April, 2013. Willis was arrested in April, 2016 after he allegedly tried to abduct a teenaged girl. He was charged in that case.
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