MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Jeffrey Willis, the man convicted of murdering Rebekah Bletsch, will be sentenced Monday morning.
Willis was convicted last month of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Bletsch, a 36-year-old mother, was shot and killed in June 2014 while jogging along a rural road near her home north of Muskegon. Her murder remained a mystery until the spring of 2016.
In April 2016, a 16-year-old girl told authorities she was walking home from a party and got lost. She said a man in a silver minivan pulled up. She asked to use his phone and got in his car. She said when she got in, he started driving and didn’t give her the phone. She said she then saw a gun, so she jumped out of the moving van and took off running. Investigators say Willis tried to shoot her, but his gun jammed twice.
The teen’s report to police broke the Bletsch case wide open. Authorities arrested Willis in connection to kidnapping in May 2016. Investigators say that when they searched his minivan, they found the gun that killed Bletsch.
During Willis’ trial, investigators said that a sex toy and glove found in Willis’ van had Bletsch’s DNA on them. Investigators also explained the ballistics testing that matched the gun from the minivan to Blestch’s murder.
Willis took the stand in his own defense, saying he didn’t kill Bletsch.
Jurors didn’t believe him. It took them only about 90 minutes to convict him. After the verdict came down, Bletsch’s family members in the gallery wept and hugged one another.
“Obviously, the evidence was well presented and they (the jury) came to a good conclusion rather fast,” Bletsch’s father Nick Winberg told 24 Hour News 8 shortly afterward. “We’re pleased that now we can heal up somewhat and move on.”
>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the Jeffrey Willis investigation
Sentencing in the Bletsch case isn’t the end of court proceedings for Willis. In March, he’ll stand trial for the kidnapping and murder of Jessica Heeringa. She vanished from a gas station on Sternberg Road in Norton Shores during her shift on the night of April 26, 2013.
Her body has never been found, but prosecutors say a file titled “VICS” found on one of Willis’ hard drives and containing a subfolder labeled with Heeringa’s initials and a code indicating the date of her disappearance is evidence she’s dead. Another subfolder in that “VICS” file was labeled with Bletsch’s name and a code for the date of her death.
Willis’ cousin, Kevin Bluhm, previously pleaded no contest to a count of accessory after the fact in connection to Heeringa’s death. Authorities say he helped Willis’ dump Heeringa’s body, though they believe Willis later moved it.
A trial date in the alleged kidnapping of the teen has not yet been set. Willis also faces multiple child pornography charges and charges for allegedly taping his underage neighbors while they were not dressed; those cases are still pending.
“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.” Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson told 24 Hour News 8 last month.
>>App users: Interactive timeline of Willis investigation