MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Jeffrey Willis was sentenced Monday morning for the murder of Rebekah Bletsch, but not before an unusual exit from a Muskegon courtroom.
Shortly after Willis entered the courtroom, he asked to leave.
Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson called the request “unprecedented,” but Judge William Marietti pointed out there is no law that requires Willis to be present for his sentencing.
“It’s unfortunate that he’s choosing this cowardly way of doing it. That certainly he’s been convicted, the family deserves the right to address the court which they intend to do and they also in some respects deserve the right to address the person convicted of killing their daughter and sister. But, that being said, whatever the court decides, the court decides,” said Hilson.
As Willis was being escorted out, he turned and blew a kiss to the people in the courtroom, some of which were calling him a coward.
>>App users: Watch Willis’ sentencing here.
Shortly after Willis’ exit Monday, Bletsch’s family tearfully read statements aimed at Willis, calling him a “coward” and “monster.”
“I’m angry that nothing I say today will bring my sister back. What I wouldn’t give to hear that laugh again,” Bletsch’s sister Nicole Winberg told the court.
“This coward should have been here to listen to us. We deserve a right to tell him exactly how we feel. And for him to walk out on us was just horrible. He doesn’t deserve anything,” added Bletsch’s mother.
Bletsch, 36, was shot and killed in June 2014 while jogging along a road near her home in Dalton Township, north of Muskegon.
“Becky is so much more than a jogger on the side of the road. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter, sister, aunt, friend, co-worker and a community member. She brought so much to all of us and to the world,” said Bletsch’s other sister, Jessica Josephson.
“Because of this monster, all we have left are memories of Becky and I won’t get to make new ones. It breaks my heart to think about all the big moments in our lives we won’t get to share with Becky,” she added.
Hilson also read a letter from Bletsch’s husband.
“Certainly today, his antics of leaving the courtroom speak volumes to me as to his cowardice,” Hilson said right before Judge William Marietti handed down the sentence.
The judge sentenced Willis to life in prison without the possibility of parole for felony first-degree murder as well as a consecutive three-year sentence on a felony firearm charge.
“Jeffrey gets to do whatever disgusting act he wants and in his small mind there’s nothing, in his small mind he thinks there’s nothing wrong with that. And he even thought he would get away with it. Well not anymore, monster. Your sick and perverted days have come to an end,” Josephson said.
“Knowing your only way out of prison is in a body bag brings a smile to my face,” she added.
The judge declined to comment during Willis’ sentencing because of the defendant’s pending cases in the kidnapping and murder of Jessica Heeringa and the attempted abduction of a 16-year-old girl.
Willis was arrested in 2016 after the teen told authorities he tried to kidnap her. The teen’s report to police broke the Bletsch case wide open. When investigators searched Willis’ minivan, authorities say they found the gun that killed Bletsch.
“Most of all, I would like to thank MJN. I can never explain to you how much my heart goes out to you. You are so brave. I believe my sister was watching over you that day,” Josephson said.
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.
Last month, jurors convicted Willis of first-degree murder.
>>Inside woodtv.com: Complete coverage of the Jeffrey Willis investigation
In March, Willis will be back in court to stand trial for Heeringa’s disappearance and death. She vanished from a gas station 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.
Bletsch’s family also wants Willis’ cousin, Kevin Bluhm, locked up. Bluhm was arrested for lying to police and eventually pleaded no contest to being an accessory after the fact in Heeringa’s murder. Bluhm told police he helped Willis dispose of Heeringa’s body, then told investigators he lied.
Bluhm will be sentenced in January.
“As a family, we can’t sit back and watch him be released when he could have said something and saved my sister,” Josephson said. “To me, he’s just as guilty as Willis.”
The family made a plea to Willis to help get his cousin locked up for life.
“Now would be a really good time to think about giving up some real evidence to keep your cousin behind bars, too,” Josephson added.
They asked that Willis give up the location of Heeringa’s remains.
“I ask that he find it in himself to give the Heeringa family their daughter back. They deserve a body to lay to rest,” Nicole Winberg said.
–24 Hour News 8’s Heather Walker contributed to this report.
>>App users: Interactive timeline of Willis investigation