Willis trial delayed, judge keeps prosecutor on

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Each time Nick Winberg interviews with 24 Hour News 8, he brings photographs of Jeffrey Willis’ alleged murder victims.

One is of Jessica Heeringa, the other is of Winberg’s daughter, Rebekah Bletsch. Handwritten Bible verses are on the back of the photos.

“I was just shattered for months. But my faith has helped me,” Winberg said.

He will need to rely on his faith even longer after a judge granted a defense motion to delay the trial against Willis in the Bletsch case again Friday.

The trial was originally scheduled to start in June. It was then pushed back to September. It has now been delayed until Oct. 16.

“My mind is telling me that this all needs to be over,” Winberg said.

Willis’ new lead attorney, Muskegon County Public Defender Fred Johnson, asked for the delayed start.

Johnson took over the case after a former member of his office and Willis’ previous attorney, Brian Hosticka, was hired by the Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office.

Johnson said he needs more time to go through the case file, which he said is about 5,000 pages.

“Nobody is sleeping. Everybody is working. There’s things that need to be done. This is an extremely complicated case,” Johnson said.

Johnson also filed a motion to remove Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson from the case, citing conflict of interest concerns in the hiring of Hosticka.

On Friday, a judge denied that motion. Hilson will stay on the case and has insisted that Hosticka will work in family court and not discuss the Willis case.

Johnson said he’s still concerned over the switching of sides.

“The way human beings communicate is only 35 percent verbal, 65 percent is how we say it, where we say it, our body language,” Johnson said. “And that’s the sort of thing that we’re worried about, is someone picks up a cue from somebody else and responds not knowingly. Then that’s still a violation of my client’s situation.”

Wingberg said despite his frustrations, he’s not surprised by yet another delay at the hands of Willis’ defense team.

While he’ll have to wait even longer for a jury to decide the accused murder’s fate, Winberg himself is already convinced.

“Court room wrangling and maneuvering and talking about side issues, it doesn’t change the fact that Willis, he’s a murderer. He’s a cold-blooded murderer,” Winberg said.

Willis is also accused of kidnapping and murder in the 2013 disappearance of Jessica Heeringa, and accused of trying to kidnap a teenage girl last year. No trial dates have been set in those cases.

Both the prosecution and the defense will be back in court next week to argue another motion in the Bletsch case.

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