MUSKEGON, Mich. – A man convicted of killing a 36-year-old woman in western Michigan blew a kiss to the courtroom Monday before he was sentenced to life in prison in one of two murder cases against him.
Judge William Marietti approved Jeffrey Willis' request to leave court and not hear statements from the family of Rebekah Bletsch, whom he was convicted of gunning down while she was jogging in Muskegon County in 2014. That drew shouts of "coward" from spectators.
"I don't think he's going to make it very long in prison. I hope he gets what he deserves," Bletsch's sister, Jessica Josephson, said after the hearing.
Willis was arrested last year when a teenager said he tried to kidnap her. The arrest jump-started investigations of the Bletsch homicide and the 2013 disappearance of a gas station clerk, Jessica Heeringa.
A gun, rope, chains, handcuffs and syringes were found in Willis' van. Police also discovered a computer file titled "VICS" with Bletsch's initials and her date of death.
Willis denied wrongdoing during the trial, but the jury quickly convicted him in November.
Prosecutor D.J. Hilson said Bletsch's relatives "deserve the right to address the person convicted of killing their daughter and sister." But the judge said there was nothing in Michigan law that required him to keep Willis in the courtroom.
"Life without parole sounds nice," Hilson said of Willis' mandatory sentence. "But it could be and should be a lot worse."
Willis still faces trial in the Heeringa case. Her body hasn't been found.