GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Jeffrey Willis is already in prison for the rest of his life for the 2014 murder of Rebekah Bletsch. But on Monday, he will get a second life sentence for the kidnapping and murder of Jessica Heeringa.
Those who were in the Muskegon courtroom during the two trials of Willis witnessed the demeanor of the man accused of horrific crimes. He was very involved in his defense, sometimes publicly clashing with his attorney, Fred Johnson, the head of the Muskegon County Public Defender Office. Now, undoubtedly to the dismay of his attorney, Willis is talking to 24 Hour News 8.
In a phone interview from prison, Willis said he has written an eight-page statement he will deliver during his sentencing.
“I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated with the way the system is working, the way the system did not work, the way I got hosed,” Willis said.
Willis is locked up awaiting his sentencing before Muskegon Circuit Court Judge William Marietti. After a two-week trail that came five years after Heeringa, a 25-year-old mother, disappeared from a Norton Shores gas station, the jury spent 90 minutes deliberating before finding Willis guilty of kidnapping and killing her. His first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Willis said he believes the jury had its mind made up long before going to the jury room and he plans to address that during his statement.
A juror told 24 Hour News 8 last week that he didn’t come into the trial with his mind made up and that rather, he was convinced over the course of the trial. He added that a few of his fellow jurors needed to review some of the evidence before reaching a guilty verdict.
“I do rip on the jury members. I don’t know if you were aware or not, but there were at least a half-dozen or so that were falling asleep almost the whole trial,” Willis said. “Really? This is my life and they’re f—ing sleeping?
No one else who watched the trial saw anything like six jurors sleeping through it.
Willis says he also plans to address his action that caused outrage after he was sentenced for the Bletsch murder. At the sentencing, he turned toward the part of the room occupied by the Bletsch family and the prosecution team and detectives and blew a kiss.
“I am gonna say something to the Bletsch family, there is something in there for them,” Willis said.
Willis also addressed his decision to leave the courtroom before the Bletsch family made their statements during his sentencing for her June 2014 murder. The judge allowed him to leave, though the officers transporting him from Muskegon to prison in Jackson later played the statement in the transport vehicle.
Since then, the Rebekah Bletsch Law was been passed, requiring convicts to stay in the courtroom for victim impact statements. Willis called it a “feel-good law” without teeth.
“I decide to get up and walk out. What are they going to do? Are they going to tackle me? They gonna make me stay? They can’t do that,” Willis said. “Really, if you think about it, if they make me stay, I bang on the table. I’m not going to do that, but I’m saying, if I wanted to I’m going to bang on the table and make a noise, they are going to eventually kick me out eventually.”
While the Heeringa family did not attend any part of that trial because they do not believe the case has been solved, they still have the option to give a statement on Monday.
It remains to be seen if this is the last sentencing for Willis, as he is still charged with the attempted abduction of a teen in 2016 who testified in both trials. Recently, Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson said that is a decision that would not be made until after Monday’s sentencing.
>>App users: Timeline of Willis investigation