MUSKEGON (WWJ/AP) – Lawyers for a man charged with murder in the 2013 disappearance of a gas station clerk in western Michigan want a key hearing in the case to take place behind closed doors.
Jeffrey Willis’ defense team this week filed a motion seeking a closed preliminary hearing in the murder case of Jessica Heeringa, according to WOOD-TV. Such hearings, where a judge reviews evidence and hears testimony before deciding whether a case goes to trial, typically are open to the press and public.
Willis’ attorneys say the case has received too much media attention. The motion is scheduled to be discussed Oct. 19 ahead of the Oct. 25 hearing.
Heeringa hasn’t been seen since just before she was closing up an Exxon Station where she worked in Norton Shores on April 26, 2013. Her body has not been found, but investigators believe she was killed within 24 to 48 hours of her abduction.
Willis was named a person of interest in Heeringa’s disappearance back in May.
Investigators have said they think Heeringa was taken against her will by someone she likely knew. There was no indication of a robbery, as Heeringa’s purse, vehicle and other items were left behind at the scene. DNA testing showed a small amount of blood found outside the gas station belonged to Heeringa.
Investigators have said Willis’ van resembles a vehicle seen by witnesses parked behind the gas station on the night Heeringa went missing. Hilson said Willis’ van was even searched in the days following Heeringa’s disappearance, but “there was nothing at that point in time to suggest at all that he was involved in any criminal activity.”
When Willis’ van was searched again following his arrest in May in an unrelated case, investigators found a pistol, ammunition, syringes with liquid, a ball gag, chains, a mask and a bar with wrist restraints inside the vehicle. Child pornography and videos of bound women were also found in his home.
Separately, Willis is also charged with abducting a 16-year-old girl in April and the 2014 slaying of 36-year-old jogger Rebekah Bletsch in Dalton Township.
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