MUSKEGON, Mich. — A man convicted of killing a 36-year-old woman in western Michigan was allowed to leave court Monday before the family members of his victim gave their emotional impact statements at his sentencing, drawing outrage.
Judge William Marietti approved Jeffrey Willis’ request to leave court and not hear statements from the family of Rebekah Bletsch, whom he was convicted of gunning down while she was jogging in Muskegon County in 2014. That drew shouts of “coward” from spectators.
Willis, who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, was seen blowing a kiss towards the outraged courtroom as he walked out.
Prosecutor D.J. Hilson called the move “unprecedented,” reports Mlive.com, and said Bletsch’s relatives “deserve the right to address the person convicted of killing their daughter and sister.” But the judge said there was nothing in Michigan law that required him to keep Willis in the courtroom.
Bletsch’s sisters and mother gave tearful statements in which they called Willis a “monster” and told him to “rot in hell,” reports Mlive.com. They had intended for Willis to hear them.
In a video posted to Mlive.com, Bletsch’s sister Jessica Josephson, wearing a shirt with Bletsch’s picture, said she was angry that Willis was allowed to walk out without hearing about the devastating impact of his crime on her family.
“So the fact that Jeffrey Willis just walked out of the courtroom and wouldn’t hear any of us, it just goes to show what a coward he is,” Josephson said. “And then he turns around and blows a kiss – that’s his kiss of death….I don’t think he’s going to make it very long in prison. I hope he gets what he deserves.”
Bletsch’s father Nick Winberg said in a video posted to Mlive his family wants to move forward and is content with the sentence, but “sad that Willis slipped out like he did.”
When asked by a reporter his reaction to Willis blowing a kiss as he left court, Winberg said he didn’t see it, “but that really shows that mind there is really sick and evil.”
Investigators have reportedly said Willis’ motive was to kidnap, rape and kill Bletsch, but that she apparently refused to get in his van. Willis was arrested last year when a teenager said he tried to kidnap her, and he also faces murder charges in another case.
According to MLive, police apprehended Willis after the teenage attempted kidnap victim picked him out of a photo array. The victim told police she got lost walking home, when a man pulled over, offered her his cell phone and ultimately forced her inside his van.
The arrest jump-started investigations of the Bletsch homicide and the 2013 disappearance of a gas station clerk, Jessica Heeringa. He was ultimately also charged with murder in that case, though her body hasn’t been found.
A gun, rope, chains, handcuffs and syringes were found in Willis’ van. During a court hearing last year, officials testified that a search of Willis’ computer revealed videos of necrophilia, “kidnap and kill” videos, and a folder labeled “VICS” with a sub-folder labeled with Bletsch’s initials “RSB” and including the date of Bletsch’s death, CBS affiliate WWMT reported.