Earlier this week, 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 did not escape the family’s words so easily as they were played for him on repeat during his trip to prison.
Willis, 47, has been charged with murdering one woman: Jessica Heeringa, 25, in 2013; and convicted of murdering Rebekah Bletsch, 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.
Muskegon County Sheriff Michael Poulin told MLive that he created a 25-minute long audio CD of the victim impact statements, which he gave to the transport officers to play during Willis’ ride to prison. According to Poulin, the CD was played five times during that transport, which took place on Wednesday.
"I don't find it that important that Jeffrey Willis heard what the family had to say, but that the family knew he heard what they said," Poulin told MLive, adding that he doesn’t know what Poulin’s reaction was to the audio.
Bletsch's sister Jessica Josephson found some comfort in knowing that her sibling’s killer got to hear her message.
"It brings a little bit of peace, a little bit of comfort," she said. "I did want the opportunity to say it to his face... but knowing he did get to hear it does help."
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 didn’t sit well with the victim’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 victim impact 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.”
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.
[Photo: Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office]