Prosecutor: Taking jail cell notes didn’t violate Willis’ rights

Jeffrey Willis has asked for dismissal of Rebekah Bletsch murder case

Jeffrey Willis
Jeffrey Willis takes the stand during a motion hearing on Dec. 2, 2016 in Muskegon County Court.

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office says detectives did not violate the constitutional rights of suspected serial killer Jeffrey Willis when they took notes from his jail cell.

Willis’ defense team filed a motion in Muskegon County Circuit Court to dismiss the Rebekah Bletsch murder case, claiming police had violated attorney-client privilege when they took the notes.

They say the notes include details about a separate kidnapping case, about where Willis claimed to be the day Bletsch was killed in June 2014 and an explanation for evidence found in his van after he was arrested. Defense attorneys claim it gave the prosecution part of their playbook.

But in a 33-page brief, prosecutors said that while police saw the notes, the prosecution never did. They said they already have a strong case to convict him in Bletsch’s murder.

Willis also is accused of kidnapping and killing Jessica Heeringa in April 2013 and kidnapping a teenaged girl in April 2016. That teen escaped, and it was her report that led investigators to Willis.

Left: Rebekah Bletsch (Undated courtesy photo) Right: Jessica Heeringa (Undated courtesy photo).
Left: Rebekah Bletsch (Undated courtesy photo) Right: Jessica Heeringa (Undated courtesy photo).

Inside Complete coverage of the Jeffrey Willis investigation

In their brief, prosecutors said Muskegon County jail guards in August found four pages of handwritten notes — an apparent journal — in the pocket of a jail jumpsuit Willis had turned in for laundry. They said the notes were “potentially incriminating” but that they weren’t marked for his attorneys and that when Willis asked for them back, he never said they were for his legal team.

The jail shared the notes with investigators but not with the prosecutor’s office, the prosecutor wrote.

Then in early September, the prosecutor agreed with a police plan to “toss” the cells of both Willis and his cousin, Kevin Bluhm, who is accused of helping Willis get rid of Heeringa’s body, which has never been found.

They say they were looking for evidence in the Heeringa case after Bluhm had stopped talking. They found a legal pad on a shelf in Willis’ cell that was not marked for his attorney, the prosecutor wrote. They said Willis also had an envelope under his bed with a return address for the Musekgon County Public Defender. They said guards looked inside for contraband but nothing else.

The prosecution said police investigating the Heeringa case told them “generally” about the notes but didn’t give them a copy.

“These notes do not exclusively contain defendant’s ‘theories or things that he says occurred’ or ‘his explanation as to why certain evidence exists,'” prosecutors wrote in the brief. “Instead, ‘there’s lots of other things in that 14 pages, some that has nothing to do with any investigation.'”

They say there’s no evidence the prosecution learned of Willis’ defense strategy.

“Defendant’s brief assumes that a breach of the attorney-client relationship occurred and jumps to dismissal as the remedy to impose,” prosecutors wrote. “The People disagree that a breach occurred and, even if a breach did occur, the remedy of dismissal is inappropriate.”

Prosecutors said they will establish Willis’ involvement in Bletsch’s murder through evidence: The murder weapon found in his van, the victim’s DNA found on items in his van and a file on his computer labeled “Vics” that includes Bletsch’s initials, as well as Heeringa’s.

“Nothing Defendant says about his whereabouts that day would matter to the prosecution,” prosecutors wrote. “Defendant cannot distance himself from either the murder weapon or the ammunition because they were found in his van.”

“Notes containing a false narrative about ‘what he was doing that day,’ or his ‘account as to why certain pieces of evidence exist’ should not seriously be considered a communication about defense strategy. In other words, one cannot strategize in falsehoods,” the prosecutors continued.

The prosecution said it “will not introduce” any of the evidence found in Willis’ jumpsuit or jail cell.

It’s not clear when Muskegon County Judge William C. Marietti will rule on the dispute. Both sides said they expect the case won’t go to trial until at least this summer.

In the meantime, the judge has ruled that prosecutors in the Bletsch case can use evidence — including the gun and tools from Willis’ van — found in the kidnapping and in the Heeringa disappearance. The defense had argued the evidence would unfairly prejudice a jury against Willis.

Prosecutors argued that evidence from all three cases “completes the story” and shows Willis had a “common plan.”