MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Although convicted killer Jeffrey Willis got his wish to walk out of the courtroom during his sentencing Monday, authorities made sure he still heard the powerful words from the family of the woman he murdered.
Rebekah Bletsch was shot and killed while jogging down a rural Muskegon County road near her home on June 29, 2014. It wasn’t until last year that authorities arrested Willis for her murder.
Monday, her family readied for their chance to face Willis at his sentencing and tell him what he did to them.
“I waited so long to say those words to him. And the way he walked out of that courtroom, glaring at us and then that last moment he blew a kiss, it was a little slap in the face, another slap in the face, another hurt that we have to try and work through,” said Bletsch’s sister, Jessica Josephson.
But on the two-hour drive to the Charles Egler Reception and Guidance Center in Jackson Wednesday morning, Willis finally heard the family’s words. Muskegon County Sheriff Michael Poulin burned audio of the family’s tearful messages onto a CD, and his deputies played it for the ride.
Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson backs the sheriff’s actions.
“It was just our attempt… to allow the victims to have that opportunity to know that what they said was in fact heard,” he said.
Willis heard the family’s statements five times during the ride.
“Sometimes you have to hear things more than once in order to have the meaning and understanding hit home,” added Hilson.
Willis had no choice but to sit there and listen to it.
“I know I didn’t get to say those words directly to him, so he couldn’t see my emotion. But the fact that he got to hear it,” said Josephson. “I think I said some powerful things to him, and he got to hear those over and over again on that ride. I’m grateful.”
Josephson says she knows her family’s words won’t change evil.
“Nothing’s going to help that man,” she said.
But Josephson says speaking out helped her family.
“What they did, my family is forever grateful for that, to have that moment, to know that he at least heard our words,” she said.
When Willis asked Judge William Marietti to dismiss him from his sentencing Monday, the judge pointed out there was no law requiring Willis to be present for the proceedings.
Rep. Holly Hughes of Montague now plans to introduce a bill next month that would require anyone sentenced to life in prison to hear the impact statements by their victims or their loved ones.
>>Timeline: The search for Jessica Heeringa
Willis will spend the rest of his life in prison for the Bletsch’s murder. He is scheduled to stand trial for the kidnapping and murder of Jessica Heeringa on March 6 – nearly five years after the 25-year-old mother disappeared from the Norton Shores gas station where she worked.