MUSKEGON, Mich. (WWJ/AP) – The case against a man charged with murder in the 2013 disappearance of a gas station clerk in western Michigan is being delayed as his lawyers seek a new judge.
Jeffrey Willis’ defense team says Judge Raymond Kostrzewa should step aside because he worked in the Muskegon County prosecutor’s office during the Jessica Heeringa investigation. Kostrzewa earlier said he wasn’t involved in the investigation and refused to step aside.
A hearing scheduled for Wednesday on other issues has been delayed.
Willis’ defense team has also filed a motion seeking a closed preliminary hearing, saying the case has received too much media attention.
Heeringa disappeared April 26, 2013, from the gas station where she worked in Norton Shores, near Muskegon. 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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