Prosecutor says more trials ahead for Jeffrey Willis

Jeffrey Willis, Rebekah Bletsch, murder trial, verdict
Jeffrey Willis moments before he was found guilty of first degree murder, felony murder and felony firearm on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, at the Muskegon County Courthouse in Muskegon, Mich.

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — After eight days and dozens of hours of testimony and 90 minutes of deliberation before a jury found him guilty of murder, Jeffrey Willis faces life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced next month.

Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson said after Thursday’s verdict, he was emotionally drained and just wanted a night with family to relax after a trial that consumed his days and nights.

On Friday, he and the family of the victim were ready to reflect and consider what comes next.

The father of Rebekah Bletsch can finally get a good night’s sleep without the burden of knowing the man he believed killed his daughter was still not convicted.

“I woke up this morning, he’s like in the rear view mirror,” said Nick Winberg. “The courts have taken care of that for us, he’s in good hands right now.”

The day after the verdict was given, Hilson reflected on the case.

“Oh by far, it was the biggest case of my career,” Hilson said. He said the short deliberation did not shock him.

>>Inside Complete coverage of the Jeffrey Willis investigation

“However long it took them to come to that conclusion, I was gonna be satisfied with — as long as they saw it the way that I saw which was that Mr. Willis committed this pretty heinous crime and we had the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove it,” Hilson said

He said hearing the guilty verdict was deeply satisfying.

“Really, bring home what investigators did and certainly justice for the Bletsch family that to me is the two satisfying things I take away from this,” Hilson said.

Hilson relished the opportunity to question Willis on the stand.

“To have an opportunity to cross-exam Mr. Willis on a lot of things was — I was very excited about that opportunity,” he said.

Although Willis will be sentenced next month to life in prison without the possibility of parole, this prosecutor believed justice demands convictions in the 2013 presumed homicide of Jessica Heeringa and the attempted abduction of a teenage girl in 2016.

“I don’t see any need whatsoever to get rid of any of the cases against Mr. Willis, in my opinion, he deserves no break,” Hilson said.

Hilson said the family of Jessica Heeringa has been waiting too long for justice and deserves to see Willis convicted in that case.

But with Willis never leaving prison, will there be any incentive for him to cooperate with revealing where her body is located?

“He knows exactly where her body is, whether or not he wants to tell us that or tell anybody that matter, that’s on him and if he did, we would be willing to listen,” Willis said.

After the trial, Willis’s defense attorney Fred Johnson said there are many grounds for an appeal.

“This case is not over, this case is gonna be going on for 10 years. They’re gonna be appealing this stuff,” Johnson said.

Hilson said a year in appeals is more like it.

“We will be certainly ready to respond accordingly,” Hilson said. “I don’t anticipate that taking 10 years.”

Throughout the case, the defense contended that it was Jeffrey Willis’ cousin Kevin Bluhm who killed Rebekah Bletsch.

The prosecution demonstrated to the jury that there was no way Bluhm could have committed the crime.

Bluhm already admitted lying about the case and now faces trial Nov. 28 on charges of being an accessory after the fact, he faces a maximum of five years in prison.

“There’s nothing as of right now anyway, any evidence that suggests he was involved in the Jessica Heeringa murder, so until evidence or leads point us in that direction, It is what it is with Mr. Blum and we’re gonna pursue that charge to the fullest,” Hilson said.

Hilson said when the trial for Heeringa would take place is still some time away.

He said the publicity of the Bletsch trial needs to wane first.

He said the next trial will look very similar to this one.

“The three cases, that being Jessica’s case, Rebekah’s case and MJN’s case are so interconnected, ther’s so many similarities and interconnections you really can’t try one of these cases without introducing evidence form the other two,” Hilson said.

Willis will be back in court Dec. 18, where he will receive the mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.