LANSING — State Rep. Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon) introduced House Bill 5392 today clarifying that unless a judge finds that a convicted person is disruptive or that his or her presence raises safety concerns for the court, that person must be present during a scheduled time for victim impact statements for a felony offense. Sabo’s bill is in response to the reprehensible actions of convicted killer Jeffrey Willis, who was allowed to leave the courtroom before the victim impact statements, and blew a kiss to his victim’s family as he left.
“My bill plugs a hole in current law, which does not give a judge clear guidelines concerning a convicted person’s request to be excused from hearing victim impact statements. That lack of guidance unfortunately set the stage for Jeffrey Willis’ inappropriate behavior, which just added to the trauma already experienced by the family of his victim, Rebekah Bletsch,” said Sabo, a former police officer. “Victim impact statements are important for victims and their families, because there is never just one victim of a crime: entire families are also victims, and convicted criminals need to hear that.”
Sabo’s bill makes it clear that it is a judge’s final decision, based on his or her efforts to protect the safety of the people in the courtroom, to excuse a convicted criminal from being present during the victim impact statements for a felony offense. Willis’ lawyer said Willis did not want to be present for the statements, and the judge granted his request. Bletsch’s family and others in the courtroom were shocked that he would not hear of the pain and suffering he caused them. Willis did hear the statement because police officers transporting him to prison played recordings of the statements throughout the drive.
“I was appalled at Willis’ request to be excused and then disgusted with his actions as he left the courtroom,” said Sabo. “Members of the public and Ms. Bletsch’s family reached out to me and asked if anything could be done, and within hours I immediately began to work on introducing my bill. My bill gives judges control of their courtroom in all aspects so that they don’t feel that they have to grant a request such as this unless the presence of the convict is disruptive or poses a danger. My bill protects the rights of victims and their families and will help prevent convicted criminals from making a mockery of our justice system.”