no avatar

Full story: Jury says Jeffrey Willis guilty of murder

By Jaleesa Irizarry/WZZM-TV • Nov 2, 2017 at 9:46 PM

MUSKEGON — In less than 90 minutes of deliberating, a Muskegon County jury found Jeffrey Willis guilty of murder in the shooting death of Rebekah Bletsch.

The verdict brought sobs and cheers throughout the courtroom Thursday afternoon. Emotions were raw as the reality of Bletsch’s death struck her family members and the man responsible for the crime, sitting just feet away.

Willis was found guilty of first-degree murder and a felony firearm charge.

The morning started off with rebuttal witnesses from the prosecutor, clarifying the alibi of Willis' cousin, Kevin Bluhm. The defense argued Bluhm was actually the person who shot and killed Bletsch in June 2014.

Bluhm’s wife, Rhonda Bluhm, took the stand and confirmed that her husband was indeed at a soccer tournament the day Bletsch was killed. Prosecutors argued Bluhm's alibi kept him nowhere near the scene of the crime during the time of the murder. But the defense argued that Rhonda's timeline didn't add up and Bluhm could have very well been in the area to commit the crime.

In his closing arguments, Prosecutor D.J. Hilson went back to the testimony of MJN, the teenage girl who police say escaped from Willis' van. "MJN was going to be victim No. 3," Hilson said.

Hilson went on to say the most compelling part of the young girl’s testimony was that all she could think was, “Don't let me die.”

The prosecutor then moved on to discuss the tool box found in Willis' van. Inside the tool box was a ball gag and sex toys that all had Willis' DNA on them. One of the sex toys had a mixture of two DNA profiles on it. The prosecutor said it was a combination of Bletch's and Willis' DNA. Both Willis and Bletsch's DNA were also found on a pair of gloves inside the tool box.

The prosecutor stressed how Bluhm's DNA was not found on the gloves.

"The 'Kevin Bluhm defense' defies logic and common sense," Hilson told the jury Thursday afternoon.

At the tail end of his closing arguments, Hilson pulled up a dash cam still frame from a police cruiser parked in front of Rebekah Bletsch at the scene of the crime. First responders could be seen providing CPR to the slain woman.

As the photos were brought up, family members of Bletsch dropped their heads as others began to cry.

The prosecutor said judging by the proximity of shell casings, the murderer shot Bletsch once, she dropped, and the suspect proceeded to walk closer and shoot her two additional times.

"There's absolutely no doubt he had time to walk over to her body, to think about it and shoot her two more times," Hilson said to the jury. "That's premeditated murder."

Defense attorney Fred Johnson then gave his closing arguments to the jury. He encouraged the group of 12 to take pause.

"Convicting the wrong person is not justice for the Bletsch family," he told them.

The defense then laid out a timeline of events for Bletsch's death.

Earlier in the day, the prosecutor had a Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office deputy testify about riding the route from the scene of the crime to Willis’ house, two different ways. On the northbound route, they passed the McCormick gas station. Surveillance video included as evidence showed a silver van (similar to Willis') passing by at about 6:23 on the night of Bletsch's death.

On a dry-erase board, the defense wrote:

6:02 p.m.: Last call Bletsch made.

6:11 p.m.: Bletsch found on the side of the road, 911 is called.

6:23 p.m.: Video shows silver van going by McCormick gas station.

6:26 p.m.: Defense says Willis made a call to his friend at his home.

“As the video shows, it took 14 minutes to drive to the location of the murder to Willis’ home,” Johnson said. “That leaves 11 minutes of travel. Willis was home by 6:26 p.m., giving him three minutes after the van was seen passing McCormick, to get home. In order for Willis to get to the gas station and his home within three minutes, he’d have to drive over 200 mph.

"Someone murdered Mrs. Bletsch," Johnson said. “We believe Kevin Bluhm is your murderer. Bluhm stalked her on Facebook, had her photos on his phone, Bluhm knew where Willis’ gun was. Bluhm obsessed about Mrs. Bletsch."

Bluhm reset his phone the day after Willis was arrested for the murder.

"We're losing everything on that phone," Johnson continued. "Directions, addresses, hundreds of telephone numbers. Why would anyone do that? After the day of an arrest? Why delete everything on your cellphone?"

But his argument was not convincing enough as the jury came back with a guilty verdict in less than 90 minutes.

"We're pleased that now we can heal up somewhat and move on," Nick Winberg, Bletsch's father, told The Associated Press.

Willis faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance for parole on Dec. 18.

Two other cases against him remain pending, including the 2013 murder of Norton Shores gas station clerk Jessica Heeringa, whose body hasn't been found.

Willis was arrested in 2016 when a teenager said he tried to kidnap her. The arrest jump-started investigations of the Bletsch homicide and the disappearance of Heeringa.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Recommended for You

    Grand Haven Tribune Videos