Jeffrey Willis sentenced to life in prison for murder of Jessica Heeringa

Posted at 10:17 AM, Jun 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-18 16:43:31-04

MUSKEGON, Mich. -- Jeffrey Willis has been sentenced to life in prison for abducting and killing convenience store clerk Jessica Heeringa in 2013.

Judge William Marrietti delivered the sentence Monday morning.

In a 13-minute statement, Willis addressed the court Monday: he maintained his innocence and made claims that police botched the investigation and manipulated the evidence against him.  He maintained that he was trying to help the teen MJN in April 2016, when he was arrested after trying to abduct her.

"Due to a lack of funding, a careless disregard for truth, the desire to reach a rash and attentive conclusion to an unproven crime, or just plain falsifying evidence, not only has this promise [of justice] been murdered, but also left to rot at the feet of lady justice," said Willis reading his statement.

Willis is still awaiting trial on that abduction, but Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson says he has to speak with people, including victims, about whether to continue to pursue or drop these pending charges.

After his arrest in 2016, investigators tied a gun found in Willis' van to the bullets used to kill Rebekah Bletsch while she was jogging in June 2014.  They also found other evidence that tied Willis to Heeringa's disappearance in April 2013.

Hilson addressed the court and says he is very proud of the police work done in Muskegon County, thanked the Bletsch family for their help and support, then said he expects to sleep better knowing that Jeffrey Willis is behind bars for life.

"[Willis] just doesn’t see his culpability in all of this apparently," said Hilson after sentencing.

"[Willis] would have continued to haunt and stalk women who were isolated or in isolated areas, and his killing would have continued; I have no doubt in my mind of that. The fact that this man will never see the light of day again, I’m pretty happy with that."

Despite Willis calling his trial rigged, his defense attorney, Muskegon County Chief Public Defender Fred Johnson told FOX 17 this trial was "remarkably fair."

"This was the man who was vilified from the very press conference before he even went to the preliminary examination," said Johnson.

"So under those circumstances and given the complications, the County of Muskegon put on a terrific defense for this man. And we’re very proud of the effort we made for him."

On May 16, jurors deliberated for less than two hours before finding Willis guilty of first-degree murder and kidnapping in the April 2013 kidnapping and death of Heeringa, a clerk at the former Exxon Mobil gas station in Norton Shores.  Her body has not been found.

No one from Heeringa's family addressed the court, while family members of Rebekah Bletsch sat in attendance. Many of Jessica's family maintain that because her body hasn't been found, her murder is still not conclusive.

Willis is already serving a life sentence for the 2014 murder of Bletsch.