Volume 9, Number 8 - May 12, 2009
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Willoughby, victim were both at Jackson party
by Joy Ufford
Troy Dean Willoughby, 45, charged with first-degree murder in the June 21, 1984, shooting death of Elisabeth “Lisa” Ehlers, of Jackson, appeared in Circuit Court for a preliminary hearing Friday.
Willoughby, with his graying hair close-cropped and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, handcuffs and white Velcro-tabbed sneakers, did not speak during the hearing before Judge Curt Haws.
He has been in custody at the Sublette County Jail since his extradition to Pinedale, in lieu of a $1 million cash bond.
He was arrested in Helena, Mont., near his home on March 1. Willoughby was a Daniel resident for much of his younger life and also lived there when Ehlers, 25, was found dead, shot three times, at a pullout on Highway 191 just north of Bondurant by the Hoback River.
Sublette County Attorney Lucky McMahon called Captain of Investigations Brian Ketterhagen, of the Sublette County Sheriff’s Department, to the stand.
Ketterhagen was the only witness who testified at the hearing.
McMahon walked Ketterhagen through the reopening of the cold case – almost 25 years old – in which no suspect had ever been arrested for the Jackson woman’s death.
Ketterhagen said Willoughby’s ex-wife Rosa Hoskings and friend Tim Basye both told him about going to a party with Willoughby in Jackson the night of June 20, 1984. Ketterhagen also testified both told him while they were returning to Daniel early the next day, Willoughby allegedly pulled in behind Ehlers’ car parked at the pullout.
“Troy Willoughby stopped the car near Lisa Ehlers’ vehicle,” Ketterhagen said of Hoskings’ statement. “Troy Willoughby got out and had an argument with Lisa Ehlers. She then heard a gunshot. She reported Troy Willoughby had killed Lisa Ehlers.”
Basye gave him a similar account but was allegedly an eyewitness, Ketterhagen said of his interview with Willoughby’s friend.
“Troy got out and dragged Lisa Ehlers out of her vehicle,” Ketterhagen testified. “That there was an altercation.”
Ketterhagen said Basye told him he watched Willoughby allegedly get a handgun from under the front seat and walk to where Ehlers was by her vehicle, then shoot her “two or three times” and walk back to the car.
“‘That’ll teach that bitch to rip me off,”’ Ketterhagen said Basye recalled Willoughby saying after the shooting.
Several previously unreported details were revealed during Public Defender Kerri Johnson’s questioning of Ketterhagen.
She asked Ketterhagen for further details about the investigation and witness interviews, including those with Rosa Hoskings.
“Did (Hoskings) indicate whether Miss Ehlers was at this party?” Johnson asked Ketterhagen.
“She was at the party,” he replied.
He confirmed Hoskings did not see Willoughby shoot the gun or pull Ehlers from her car. Johnson also asked for more details about Basye’s interview.
“Did he see Mr. Willoughby strike (Ehlers)?” Johnson asked.
“Yes, he did,” Ketterhagen replied.
The gun Basye said Willoughby allegedly used was a .357 or .38-caliber handgun, he testified.
“Did he see Mr. Willoughby shoot Miss Ehlers?” Johnson asked Ketterhagen of Basye’s interview.
“Yes, he did,” he said.
“Is she on the ground when Mr. Willoughby shoots her?” Johnson asked.
“She may be in a position where she’s getting off the ground,” he said.
Ehlers’ body was found shortly after she was shot in her right hand, sternum and below her left ear, Ketterhagen testified.
Johnson also questioned Ketterhagen about interviews he had in late February with Willoughby.
He testified Willoughby told him “they saw Miss Ehlers’ vehicle at some turnout. … They saw her lying on the ground dead.”
Johnson asked if the suspect and victim knew each other.
“I believe there was some sort of acquaintance,” Ketterhagen replied.
“Was there some indication it was a drug deal?” asked Johnson.
“Yes,” he said.
“Were there drugs found on Miss Ehlers?”
“Yes,” Ketterhagen said.
After the testimony, Judge Curt Haws explained the preliminary hearing is not to establish guilt or innocence but to determine if there is sufficient evidence of an alleged offense and “probable cause” Troy Willoughby purposefully killed another human being.
“After hearing the evidence I’ve been hearing this morning,” Haws said, he was binding the case over to District Court.
In an earlier interview with the Examiner, Ketterhagen said Hoskings and Basye were interviewed last October and November after Sheriff “Bardy” Bardin asked him to head up the cold-case investigation.
This time, they opened up about what they saw and heard almost 25 years ago.
“I think there was some shock value to it (the investigation being reopened),” Ketterhagen had said of their change of mind about making statements.
After the preliminary hearing Friday, Ketterhagen said the prosecution has 10 days to get a complete case file to the defense.
“Then they will have everything we have,” he said.
He doesn’t “anticipate (Willoughby’s) trial starting for eight months to a year,” he added, saying both sides will be filing and arguing motions.
“That happens especially when you have something that’s almost 25 years old,” Ketterhagen explained.
Photo credits: Joy Ufford
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