Willoughby prosecutor to probe misconduct

Willoughby prosecutor to probe misconduct

By Johanna Love, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

February 13, 2012

After a jury found Troy Dean Willoughby not guilty of the 1984 murder of Jackson resident Lisa Ehlers on Thursday, the Sublette County attorney pledged to hold unethical investigators accountable.

During Willoughby’s first trial, Sublette County officials withheld a police document that could have aided his defense. After it was discovered and revealed by other Sublette officials, Ninth District Judge Timothy C. Day of Jackson ordered a new trial that resulted in last week’s acquittal.

“At this time, we are carefully evaluating all options available to bring accountability to those individuals who are alleged to have committed misconduct while engaged in the performance of their duties,” Sublette County Attorney Neal Stelting wrote in a statement released Friday by his office. “It is unfortunate that the past actions of a small number of individuals, who are no longer employed by Sublette County, have tarnished the integrity of our legal system and our respective agencies.”

He also reached out to Ehlers’ family.

“The Sublette County Attorney’s Office and the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office extend our condolences to the members of the Ehlers family for the closure they have lost and the emotional difficulty they have experienced throughout the two criminal trials,” Stelting wrote.

Police say Ehlers was shot and killed at about 6 a.m. on June 21, 1984, at a pullout on Highway 191, allegedly because of drugs. The case went cold until 2008, and a Sublette County team helped prosecutors bring murder charges against Willoughby in March 2009.

Willoughby was found guilty in January 2010, but a police report that placed Willoughby at his home in Daniel shortly before the Ehlers shooting came to light in 2011. Investigators involved in the 2010 trial did not disclose the report to Willoughby’s defense attorneys, a breach of procedures. Day ordered a new trial as a result. It concluded in Lander last week.

Sublette County “cannot regret the decision to bring forward the previously undisclosed evidence” that led to a second trial, Stelting wrote. “Our ethical duties required the disclosure of that evidence.

“As we move forward under new elected leadership,” Stelting said, “we promise to be vigilant in ensuring that we adhere to the highest ethical standards of law enforcement and prosecutorial practices.”

Jurors in Lander took about five hours Thursday afternoon to declare Willoughby not guilty. The verdict by the seven men and five women from Fremont County capped the three-week trial that started Jan. 23 and involved testimony from more than 50 people and admission of 80-plus exhibits.

The acquittal exonerated Willoughby.

Defense attorney Rob Oldham, in opening statements Jan. 24, told jurors the prosecution’s investigators “purposely hid police reports” that showed the defendant at home in Daniel several hours before the murder.