Volume 106, Number 19 - May 8, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
by Jonathan Van Dyke
With its preliminary hearing set for this morning, some new players in the Troy Willoughby murder trial have emerged.
Chief Trial Counsel Kerri Johnson of Casper will be in charge of Willoughby’s defense, while the Sublette County Attorney’s Office hired Tony Howard to assist it in the prosecution.
Willoughby, 46, has been charged with the murder of Elizabeth Miles Ehlers. She was found dead almost 25 years ago at a pullout near the Hoback Junction.
The preliminary hearing will be held at 9 a.m. this morning at the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial Court in the Sublette County Courthouse. Judge Curt Haws will be presiding.
“We feel confident that we’ll get it bound over to district court,” County Attorney Lucky McMahon said. “We just have to be ready to present the probable cause for the arrest to the court.”
Assuming the trial keeps moving forward, Howard could become an integral part of the prosecuting team.
“Tony Howard was a career prosecutor in Wyoming,” McMahon said. “He is well-versed and has tried many murder cases.”
Howard retired two years ago and currently lives in Idaho. He worked a number of years in various county attorney offices including Sweetwater.
“Because he is retired, he can commit more time to this endeavor,” McMahon added. “We’re only getting his assistance, he’s not going to take over the case. Our office is still trying the case.”
Howard is expected to assist with discovery of the motions, at least a month of pre-trial preparation in Pinedale and during the trial. The county commission granted the request, which will pay Howard $20,000 plus expenses.
“The nature of the case, I believe, makes it necessary to bring someone in,” McMahon said. “It’s an uncommon, complicated and complex case. It’s 24 years old, and because of that we have mountains of reports, videos, tapes, evidence and things that we have to go through to determine discovery.”
The case will take thousands of man-hours, she added. The attorney’s office will also be working with ballistic experts, forensics, DNA experts, crime scene reconstruction and witnesses “all across America.”
No one in the current office’s configuration has tried a capital case, although deputy attorney Meredith Peterson has assisted in several murder trials.
“In general, he (Howard) has been very successful in his prosecuting career,” McMahon said. “The response [from those recommending Howard] has been that he’s a very tenacious prosecutor and works very hard.”
On the opposing side, the state has appointed Johnson.
“She’s been with the public defender’s office since 1996,” said Diane Lozano, the Wyoming state public defender. “She’s tried numerous murder cases.”
Johnson has been co-counsel or lead counsel in four capital cases. She is the trial supervisor for the Casper field office.
“I consider her to be our best trial attorney,” Lozano said.
Willoughby, originally from Daniel, was extradited to the Sublette County Jail from Helena, Mont., on March 27. His bail is set at $1 million cash.
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