Recordings Show Police Conspiracy, Man Says

     CASPER, Wyo. (CN) – Graphic recordings prove that a Montana man was sentenced to life in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, after police knowingly withheld exonerating evidence, the man, acquitted on retrial, claims in Federal Court.
     In 2010, more than a year after the Sublette County (Wyo.) Sheriff’s Office resurrected an investigation from its cold-case files, a jury convicted Troy Willoughby for the 1984 murder of Lisa Ehlers. The Wyoming Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and sentence in June 2011.
     Willoughby sued Randall Hanson, a former investigator for the Sublette County Attorney’s Office; former sheriff’s Capt. Brian Ketterhagen; and sheriff’s Deputy Sarah Brew. They are the only defendants. Willoughby sued them all in their individual capacity.
     According to the 22-page complaint, Deputy Lance Gehlhausen was assigned in 2008 to the team investigating the murder. While reviewing the file of the Willoughby investigation, the team – dubbed the “Leadership Team” – discovered exculpatory evidence that gave Willoughby an alibi for the time of the murder. Gehlhausen was ordered to leave the file with defendant Ketterhagen, according to the complaint.
     Months later, Gehlhausen discovered that the file was still signed out under his name. Willoughby says the deputy asked Ketterhagen about the file, and the captain denied having any knowledge about it.
     Willoughby says Gehlhausen next defendant Hanson to see if he knew where the file was. Gehlhausen recorded his conversation with Hanson, who told him Ketterhagen had the file locked away and that he would speak to the captain about it, according to the complaint.
     Gehlhausen heard nothing more about the complaint for 3 months, and was concerned that the exculpatory evidence had not been turned over to the prosecutor or disclosed to Willoughby’s defense, so he recorded multiple conversations with the Leadership Team, Willoughby says.
     “The October 6 and 7, 2009 recordings show that the LT [Leadership Team] members knew the report to be exculpatory,” the complaint states. “During the recordings, LT member Ketterhagen explicitly states: ‘Yeah, well I agree, I don’t feel it’s our job. Well, I don’t necessarily, well; you know you may be right. It’s exculpatory.’
     “The LT members worried about turning the report over because it would fit Mr. Willoughby’s alibi ‘perfectly,’ and stated Mr. Willoughby had ‘an ironclad alibi if we can’t put him at the scene at 6 a.m.’ There is absolutely no doubt that defendants knew the exculpatory nature of the evidence they were hiding, as shown by the following statements:
     ‘But see here’s the problem, it’s exculpatory so we did not give it up.’
     ‘But I know all they’re entitled to is anything in reference to Troy Willoughby, but what they’re telling the judge is they don’t trust us, and they probably have a right not to at this point.’
     “This statement was made while laughing.”
     Willoughby says the Leadership Team decided to withhold the evidence that would have cleared him.
     Citing the recordings, the complaint states the team made these statements:
     “‘Well what do you guys think, what do you want to do?’
     ‘Let’s just keep our mouths shut.’
     ‘Because if they find out we knew, that it’s exculpatory, and … he’s gonna fucking walk.’
     ‘Even after the trial if he’s found guilty?’
     ‘Even before the trial, Lucky [Sublette County prosecutor Lucketta McMahon] could be fucking sanctioned and everything.’
     ‘Does she know about this file?’
     ‘Kind of, a little bit, not much.’
     ‘We’re gonna brainstorm, but we may just let it ride and see what happens.’
     ‘They may not even find it.'”
     Then, Willoughby says, Deputy Gehlhausen chimed in.
     “‘So my question is, I know it’s gonna be a pain in the ass to have to answer to, but rather than lose a case because we didn’t turn something over, why don’t we turn it over and just answer to it?’
     “The LT members responded by stating:
     ‘The problem is it should have been turned over earlier.’
     ‘The best thing is we didn’t know it existed.’
     ‘Well, I’m worried about fucking fingerprints and shit.’
     ‘Oh fuck, they’re not gonna get that to fingerprint.’
     ‘I say we hang fucking old Lance [i.e., Deputy Gehlhausen] out to dry.’
     ‘I think so too, but he seems resistant.'” (Brackets in complaint.)
     The complaint continues: “The LT members were concerned with the repercussions of not turning the exculpatory evidence over; the defendants came to the conscious decision and agreed to keep the exculpatory evidence secret. As documented by the recordings, the defendants knew the exculpatory nature of the evidence and that they were required to disclose it, but instead decided to unconstitutionally withhold the exculpatory evidence in violation of Mr. Willoughby’s constitutional rights.”
     Three months later, a Sublette County jury took just 2 hours to convict Willoughby of the 1984 shooting death of Lisa Ehlers. Willoughby claims the Leadership Team “threw away, shredded, and/or secreted written statements made by the prosecution’s key witnesses” that would have exonerated him.
     “Specifically, defendants possessed a written statement made by Rosa Willoughby (Hosking). Defendants did not show Rosa the statement during an interview with her because ‘she spit back exactly what I wanted her to say.’ Defendants then intentionally destroyed the statement and stated: ‘I didn’t want it to get somehow inadvertently stuck in with discovery and it raises some kind of eyebrow,'” Willoughby claims. (Parentheses in complaint.)
     Rosa Hosking is Willoughby’s ex-wife.
     Two days after the Wyoming Supreme Court affirmed Willoughby’s life sentence, Gehlhausen managed to get the exculpatory evidence turned over to the Sublette County DA’s office and Willoughby’s attorneys. A district court ordered a new trial, which began in January this year.
     During the trial, Willoughby’s public defender told the new jury that investigators “purposely hid police reports” showing Willoughby at his home around the time of the murder, according to an article in the Sublette Examiner newspaper.
     Willoughby claims that defendants Hanson and Ketterhagen both admitted they should have turned over the exculpatory evidence.
     “In fact, defendant Hanson agreed under cross-examination that there was ‘no excuse’ for not turning over the exculpatory evidence,” Willoughby says in his complaint.
     During closing arguments, Willoughby’s public defender said that from the start, the sheriff’s investigation was narrow, and after Willoughby was selected as the suspect, speculation and the cover-up of evidence led to the conviction, according to another story in the Examiner.
     The second jury agreed, taking 5 hours to acquit Willoughby, on Feb. 9.
     Willoughby spent almost 3 years in prison.
     “While the court vacated Mr. Willoughby’s conviction, defendants nonetheless recklessly, knowingly, intentionally, willfully and wantonly caused Mr. Willoughby to be unconstitutionally convicted and confined for almost three years,” the complaint states. “Their actions were so egregious and were carried out in a manner that shocks the judicial conscience and constituted a deprivation of constitutional dimension. Defendants stated multiple times that the evidence needed to be disclosed, but if they disclosed it Mr. Willoughby would ‘fucking walk’ and that Willoughby had ‘an ironclad alibi if we can’t put him at the crime scene at 6 am.’ These statements document that defendants knew risk to Mr. Willoughby’s liberty, but deliberately withheld the exculpatory evidence.”
     Willoughby seeks punitive damages for constitutional violations, false imprisonment, and conspiracy to violate his civil rights.
     He is represented by Robert Pahlke of Scottsbluff, Neb. and Donald Fuller with Fuller Sandefer in Casper, Wyo.

%d bloggers like this: