The Sublette County Attorney’s Office is reviewing previously undisclosed evidence to determine if it will re-file criminal charges, should a new trial be granted, against convicted murderer Troy D. Willoughby, who was sentenced to life in prison last year for the 1984 death of Lisa Ehlers.
A June 21,1984 police report places Willoughby at his Daniel home roughly five hours before Ehlers’ body was found in the Hoback Canyon. The Sublette County Attorney’s Office stated a preliminary investigation has determined the police report was not disclosed to Willoughby’s defense team before his January 2010 trial in Pinedale.
As a result, Willoughby’s public defender Kerri Johnson filed a motion for a retrial in Ninth District Court last Friday.
Sublette County Attorney Neal Stelting said at a press conference Wednesday morning he anticipates a judge will grant a new trial, and he is determining if his office will recharge Willoughby for Ehlers’ murder.
“We are in the process of examining the evidence we have, what this 1984 report does to the State’s case, to the evidence, to come to some conclusion whether we retry Troy Willoughby,” Stelting said.
Neither Stelting, nor other attorneys at his office, have prosecuted a first-degree murder case. However, Rick Wermuth, the investigator for the Sublette County Attorney’s Office, was the investigator for Willoughby’s defense team last year.
Stelting said Wermuth has not been a part of his office’s preliminary investigation into the 1984 police report and is not committed to returning to Willoughby’s defense table.
“He has been screened from all internal investigations into this matter,” Stelting said. “Under no circumstances will he be able, or willing, for that matter, to go back and work with the defense team.”
Wermuth could be called as a witness by the defense during a new trial, Stelting said, but not by the State.
If a new trial does occur, Stelting said he does not see a need to spend additional County funds to pay for an outside investigator, but he would consider hiring a special prosecutor.
Special Prosecutor Tony Howard, who worked with former County Attorney Lucky McMahon during Willoughby’s trial, has denied knowing the 1984 police report existed.
If Stelting files charges against Willoughby, he said the convicted murderer would likely be transported to Sublette County Jail where he would remain throughout the new trial.
Willoughby’s defense could file a motion in District Court for a change of venue, which would have to show why he would not be able to receive a fair trial in Pinedale.
Johnson, Willoughby’s attorney, did not immediately return requests for comment Wednesday.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Stelting once again commended Sublette County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) Captain Lance Gehlhausen for bringing the 1984 police report to Sheriff Dave Lankford’s attention in May. Lankford then turned it over to Stelting’s office.
Gehlhausen said he knew of the police report at the time of Willoughby’s trial, but SCSO Captain Brian Kettergahan and County Attorney’s Office Investigator Randall Hanson determined Willoughby was not entitled to the report, according to a June 14 press release from Stelting’s office. Gehlhausen also spoke with McMahon, who verified she had knowledge of the report, the release states.
It is still the County Attorney’s Office’s belief that McMahon knew of the report, Stelting said Tuesday.
“We stand by that,” he said.
According to the police report, former SCSO Undersheriff Hank Ruland was contacted at 12:38 a.m. on June 21, 1984 and advised to call Willoughby at this home in Daniel. Three men, Don Curtis, Chris Lauger and Tom Jaskowski, had filed a complaint against Willoughby at the SCSO, according to the report.
The men claimed Willoughby owed Curtis $250, and Willoughby told them to meet him at his house in Daniel with a set of tires, and he would give Curtis the money, their complaints state. The men arrived at Willoughby’s house around 12:15 a.m,. and Willoughby threw a rock at their car, breaking the driver’s side and rear windows, the complaint states. The men then drove to Pinedale to file the complaint.
Undersheriff Ruland was headed towards Daniel when he was notified by dispatch of the men arriving at the SCSO and turned around. According to his report, Ruland did not visit Willoughby’s home that night.
Further investigation of the 1984 police report has been turned over to the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI). Stelting said he sent a request to DCI and spoke with Director Forrest Bright Tuesday, after which DCI agreed to conduct a formal investigation.
“All investigations into any sort of misconduct, wrongdoings or criminal matters is going to be done by DCI,” Stelting said.
He expects DCI agents to retrieve documents surrounding the investigation and to conduct interviews with witnesses in Sublette County this week.
Bright could not be reached for comment, as he was out of the office until Friday. For the complete article see the 06-24-2011 issue.
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