Tears, 911 call during first day of Willis trial testimony

Jeffrey Willis
An Oct. 19, 2017 photo shows Jeffrey Willis sitting in court during his trial for the murder of Rebekah Bletsch. (Joel Bissell/Pool)

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The first people to find Rebekah Bletsch lying on a rural Muskegon County road were also the first to testify in Jeffrey Willis’ murder trial Thursday.

Willis is charged with murdering Bletsch, who was shot three times in the head while jogging near her home on Automobile Road in Dalton Township in June 2014.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the Jeffrey Willis investigation

Hours after being seated, jurors heard a recording of the 911 call made by neighbor Mark Klint, who lived down Automobile Road.

Photo: Rebekah Bletsch (Source: Facebook)

Michelle Klint, the caller’s wife and a registered nurse, was on the witness stand and began to cry as the recording was played. She said she didn’t immediately recognize Bletsch, who was her neighbor and her daughter’s coach.

“My husband made a comment that he thought it might be a deer,” she told the court. “I realized that it was a person laying there… We drove a little bit closer and I got out and ran over there while my husband was in the car with my daughter. … And when I realized it was a person, I said, ‘We need to call 911.'”

Klint said they found Bletsch partially in the road, lying on her stomach with her head toward the gravel. Klint said she could see blood on Bletsch’s head. Klint testified Bletsch’s top was scrunched up and her pants rucked down so part of her bottom was visible.

“Once I got to her, I could hear her somewhat like moaning, and obviously she was breathing at that point and I checked her pulse,” Klint said. “I felt that it was pretty regular, although it was fast.”

Klint’s husband called 911. During that call, the decision was made to turn Bletsch onto her back so she they could attempt CPR and maintain her spinal cord.

Eventually, first responders arrived and took over, but Bletsch died at the scene.

The Klints thought Bletsch was the victim of a hit-and-run crash, but Deputy Scott Foster testified Thursday that the scene “didn’t fit.” He said he noticed two wounds to Bletsch’s head and bruising on the left side of her rib cage and to her wrist.

Another deputy testified he noticed a spent shell casing at the scene.

During the cross-examination, Willis’ defense attorney called attention to how Bletsch’s armband, earbuds and sunglasses were neatly gathered alongside the road.

Another deputy who was first to arrive on the scene testified that was how he found her personal belongings. However, he said he lifted an item and placed it back down before taking a photo at the scene.

>>App users: Watch Thursday’s opening statements and testimony here.

In opening statements, Prosecutor D.J. Hilson argued Willis intended to kidnap Bletsch before shooting her.

“He killed Rebekah Bletsch in a premeditated way with the intent to kill,” Hilson told the jury. “Not only did he intend to kill her, also at that time, he intended to abduct her as well.”

He laid out his evidence, including a glove of Willis’ he said contained DNA from Bletsch and a computer file labeled “VICS” with a folder that had Bletsch’s initials on it. He said evidence found on Wills’ property and van as well as matching ballistic evidence will prove to the jury that only Willis could have killed her.

The prosecution will try to show a pattern of behavior from Willis, telling the jury about the alleged attempted abduction of a teen girl last year that led to Willis’ arrest and the disappearance of Jessica Heeringa, who Willis is also charged with murdering.

In his opening statement, Hilson mentioned including a crumpled piece of notebook paper he said investigators found at Willis’ grandfather’s home. Hilson called it a “rape list” of items to go in a “mini rape kit.” Also at the grandfather’s home, investigators found 11 bleach bottles and other cleaning supplies. The prosecutor said Willis also had hundreds of rape-capture-kill-videos.

Hilson said he will pursue a first-degree murder conviction, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Jurors can also consider a second-degree murder conviction, which would allow for the possibility of parole.

>>App users: Photos of the first day of testimony

Willis’ attorney Fred Johnson, who heads up the Muskegon County Public Defenders’ Office, said the evidence points to Willis’ cousin, Kevin Bluhm, as the murderer.

“Mr. Bluhm knew Rebekah Bletsch, their kids played soccer together and it appeared he had some sort of fascination with her, because he was Facebook stalking her,” Johnson said.

He said Bluhm was a “marksman” and Bletsch’s shooting would require skill. Johnson also said Bluhm borrowed items from Willis and then returned them after the crime.

“Mr. Bluhm had both the motive and the opportunity to do this shooting and he is, in fact, the person who did,” Johnson said.

He’s also working to provide the jury with alternate theories that would prompt reasonable doubt, including mentioning that Blestch was allegedly in a fight with her husband the day before her murder.

Bletsch’s father-in-law and co-worker also testified Thursday.

Testimony in the murder trial is expected to continue at 1:30 p.m. Friday.

>>App users: Interactive timeline of Willis investigation

–24 Hour News 8’s Heather Walker and Barton Deiters contributed to this report.