A convicted murderer left a Muskegon, Michigan courtroom during his sentencing on Monday, forcing the victim’s family members to read statements aimed at him to an empty chair instead.
Jeffrey Willis, 47, has been charged with murdering one women: Jessica Heeringa, 25, in 2013; and convicted of murdering Rebekah Bletsch (pictured), 36, in 2014. He also allegedly tried to abduct a teenage girl in 2016. Monday’s sentencing was for the murder of Bletsch, a mother who was fatally shot while going for a jog, not far from home.
The convicted killer asked to leave the courtroom on Monday, not long after entering it. Judge William Marietti honored his wishes, citing the fact that there is no law requiring a defendant to be present during their sentencing, according to WOOD-TV.
That move upset Bletsch’s family, who felt stripped of their chance to address their loved one’s killer. As Willis exited, many in the courtroom hollered at him, calling him a coward. Willis’ response? He blew them a kiss. Gasps erupted after his gesture.
“This coward should have been here to listen to us,” Bletsch’s mother said during her statement. “We deserve a right to tell him exactly how we feel. And for him to walk out on us was just horrible. He doesn’t deserve anything.”
Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson agreed with the family’s sentiment, stating, “it’s unfortunate that he’s choosing this cowardly way of doing it. That certainly he’s been convicted, the family deserves the right to address the court which they intend to do and they also in some respects deserve the right to address the person convicted of killing their daughter and sister. But, that being said, whatever the court decides, the court decides.”
Willis was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the first-degree murder of the beloved wife and mother. He was convicted of the crime last month.
Now, Heeringa’s family members are waiting to see if he will also be convicted of in the case of Heeringa, who vanished from her job at an Exxon Mobil Station over four years ago.
Her body was never found but Willis and his cousin Kevin Bluhm, 47, have been charged with her disappearance. Bluhm has also been charged with lying about Bletsch’s murder.
Heeringa was the mother of a 3-year-old boy when she disappeared.
Willis, a married factory worker, had no previous criminal history before these crimes surfaced. Police are now been investigating to see if he is responsible for other murders in the area, including the unsolved killing of a 15-year-old girl over 20 years ago.
On Monday, despite having to speak to an empty chair, one of Bletsch’s sisters got to say exactly what she felt.
“Becky is so much more than a jogger on the side of the road. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter, sister, aunt, friend, co-worker and a community member. She brought so much to all of us and to the world,” Jessica Josephson said.
She called Willis a monster. Addressing him, she said, “Knowing your only way out of prison is in a body bag brings a smile to my face.”