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Jury convicts man in fatal shooting of Muskegon-area jogger

November 3, 2017

Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson delivers his closing statements to the jury during Jeffrey Willis' murder trial on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017, at the Muskegon County Courthouse in Muskegon, Mich. Willis is charged with the 2014 fatal shooting of Rebekah Bletsch, who was jogging along a road in rural Muskegon County. (Joel Bissell /Muskegon Chronicle via AP)

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) — Jurors on Thursday quickly convicted a man of fatally shooting a woman who was jogging in 2014, one of two murder cases filed against him in western Michigan.

Jeffrey Willis denied any role in Rebekah Bletsch’s death in Muskegon County’s Dalton Township, but jurors determined the evidence against him was strong. The jury met for less than two hours before returning a guilty verdict.

“We’re pleased that now we can heal up somewhat and move on,” said Nick Winberg, Bletsch’s father.

Willis faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance for parole on Dec. 18. Two other cases still are pending, including the 2013 murder of a Muskegon-area gas station clerk whose body hasn’t been found.

He 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 Jessica Heeringa.

A pistol, rope, chains, handcuffs and syringes were found in Willis’ van. The gun later was identified as the weapon used to kill Bletsch. Police also found a computer file titled “VICS” with Bletsch’s initials and her date of death.

“I’ve never seen pure evil, but the defendant to me is pure evil,” prosecutor D.J. Hilson told jurors. “Not only does he have the willingness to lie, but he has no problem killing people.”

Willis surprised the courtroom Wednesday by testifying in his own defense. He tried to pin Bletsch’s death on a cousin whom he claimed had used his gun.

Defense attorney Fred Johnson said Willis isn’t “likable,” but he urged jurors to set that aside and acquit him.

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