Legal teams explain Willis’ walking out of his sentencing

Jeffrey Willis arrives for his sentencing 12/18/17

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Today, Jeffrey Willis did something unprecedented during his sentencing hearing. He left.

Just prior to Judge William Marietti reading the sentence, he asked Willis if he’d like to be present or excused from the proceedings. Willis asked to leave, and did.

On his way out, Willis hurled one final insult before he disappeared through the holding door – he blew a kiss in the direction of the Bletsch family. Then he left to shouts of profanity and “coward.”

“I was looking down and I’m disappointed I didn’t see it, but there [were] a lot of people that saw it,” said Muskegon County prosecutor D.J. Hilson. “Unfortunately there’s nothing more I can do to him than has already been done. But again, that just speaks to the volume of person that we were dealing with through these investigations and through this trial.”

Willis’ defense attorney, Fred Johnson of the Muskegon County Public Defender’s office, said he didn’t see the action either.

“I didn’t… not from my perspective,” Johnson said. “I heard about it. I saw the family’s reaction.”

Rebekah Bletsch’s sisters and mom speak at Willis’ sentencing 12/18/17

There is no statute in Michigan dictating that convicts must stay present for their sentencing. Likewise, the murder charge Willis faced carries a penalty of life, so the convicted killer already knew his sentence before it was spoken.  Both Hilson and Johnson also agree that even if Willis was forced to stay in the courtroom, he still couldn’t be forced to listen.

“You can’t make him listen anyway,” Johnson said after the sentencing. “If a person is going to be there and cause a disturbance, then you’ve got a circus. You’ve got the Jerry Springer Show.”

“Unfortunately, there’s nothing more I can do to him than has already been done,” said Hilson.

Johnson did say that the statements from Bletsch’s family are transcribed into the court records and Willis will be provided with them and he could read them whenever he wants.

Johnson said Willis plans to appeal the ruling as they prepare to face more murder charges in the murder trial of Jessica Heeringa, which begins March 6th.

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