Serial killer Jeffrey Willis granted new attorney to appeal his murder convictions

MUSKEGON, MI – After questioning his attorney’s abilities, serial killer Jeffrey Willis is getting new counsel to fight his two murder convictions.

A Muskegon County judge ruled Tuesday afternoon that the attorney previously representing Willis in the appeals process can withdraw from the case.

Willis appeared in a Muskegon County courtroom, via Zoom, for a motion hearing Tuesday, Aug. 30, after his court-appointed appellate counsel filed a motion earlier this month to withdraw herself from the case.

The 52-year-old is serving life without parole in a Michigan prison for the 2014 killing of jogger Rebekah Bletsch and the 2013 kidnapping and killing of Jessica Heeringa, an attendant at a Norton Shores gas station.

Ann M. LaBreck has represented Willis through the Court of Appeals process, but told Muskegon County Circuit Judge William C. Marietti on Tuesday that her client wants “things done yesterday.”

“This has been an ongoing issue with Mr. Willis,” LaBreck said of the attorney-client relationship. “He’s going to tell you today that he still wants me on the case, which I really don’t think he does. He’s questioned, frequently, my abilities on the case.”

LaBreck said she’s had arguments with Willis about procedural rules and how court hearings run.

“In my opinion, I’ve gone above and beyond for him,” she said, adding she’s obtained hundreds of pages of documents Willis requested to prepare for an evidentiary hearing.

However, LaBreck said she has not received all materials requested – via a Freedom of Information request – from some police agencies and will not move forward with an evidentiary hearing without being prepared.

“I think at this point in time, Mr. Willis could use a new set of eyes to look at his case,” she said.

Willis somewhat disagreed.

“I think Ms. LaBreck was doing a better job than (my previous attorney),” he said. “She did promise me that she would get my evidentiary hearing done, but apparently we disagree on when that evidentiary hearing was supposed to be held.”

“… I think it’s time to maybe get me different counsel,” he said.

Marietti approved LaBreck’s motion during the five-minute hearing and said the court will begin to look for new counsel. This will be Willis’ second appellate counsel.

Marietti also offered Willis some advice.

“I do want to say Mr. Willis, my experience has been that you’ve had two very capable attorneys representing you up to this point,” the judge said. “At some point, you’re going to have to accept the advice your attorneys are giving you when they’re competent attorneys … or you’re going to have to consider representing yourself.”

“At least at this point, I’m willing to give you another attorney and see if you can get on the same page,” he added.

Investigators broke the case open against Willis when he attempted to abduct a teenage girl walking along side a Muskegon County road in 2016. When the 16-year-old agreed to get in for a ride, Willis pulled a gun on her. The gun later became the piece of evidence tying Willis to all three crimes.

The girl jumped out of the moving van, and when questioned by police, she identified her abductor as Willis.

The attempted abduction linked Willis to both Heeringa’s murder in 2013 and Bletsch’s murder in 2014.

After his arrest, police found evidence on Willis’ computer containing information related to Heeringa and Bletsch as well as tens of thousands of violent videos depicting abductions, torture and rape of women.

A jury found Willis guilty of Heeringa and Bletsch’s murders in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Muskegon County prosecutors later dropped the charges against Willis for the attempted abduction.

An evidentiary hearing has not been scheduled.

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