LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday signed into law a measure that will make defendants convicted of a crime to listen to victim impact statements.
“This is a good day because we’ve had these criminals that are causing pain, mountains of pain for people. They duck out, they’re able to duck right out of the courtroom and this is going to put a stop to that,” Nick Winberg told 24 Hour News 8.
The law is named for Winberg’s daughter Rebekah Bletsch. It was created after the man convicted of killing her, Jeffrey Willis, was allowed to leave the courtroom before her family gave their victim impact statements at his sentencing in December 2017. As he walked out, he blew a kiss.
“You can’t get more evil than that,” Winberg said.
State Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague, sponsored the legislation to make convicts stay in the courtroom during for the statements after hearing about Willis’ behavior. It earned approval from the Legislature earlier this month.
Bletsch’s family testified at legislative hearings on the bill, talking about how difficult it was for them that Willis was allowed to leave. Bletsch’s sister, Jessica Josephson, said it denied her part of the grieving process.
“Some of these statements are really heartfelt, heart-wrenching statements and the people that make them want these criminals to hear,” Winberg said Wednesday. “We know that you can’t really change the whole demeanor, we can’t change the criminal. They’re so evil to begin with. It really helps the victims to vent some of this rage and anger that they’ve got.”
Willis did eventually have to listen to the Bletsch family’s victim impact statements. The deputies who took him to the state prison reception center in Jackson played them on repeat for the drive.
Under the new law, judges would still have discretion over deciding whether a convict will stay if that person is disruptive or dangerous.
The rule goes in to immediate effect, which means Willis will have to stay in the courtroom during his next sentencing in June for the murder of Jessica Heeringa.
“The quicker he’s locked up and pretty much forgotten, the better it is, and I hope West Michigan don’t go through anything like this ever again,” Winberg said.
—24 Hour News 8’s Zach Horner contributed to this report.