CHEYENNE — A Montana man cleared of a Wyoming murder charge has filed a federal lawsuit against three former Sublette County investigators claiming they withheld evidence from his attorneys.
Troy Willoughby of Wickes, Mont., was convicted in 2010 in the 1984 killing of Lisa Ehlers.
Willoughby’s conviction was overturned after Sublette County Attorney Neal Stelting announced last summer that authorities had failed to disclose a possibly exculpatory police report to Willoughby’s attorneys. Willoughby was granted a new trial, and a jury acquitted him early this year.
Casper lawyer Ian Sandefer represents Willoughby in the lawsuit filed Monday. It names two former officers of the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office, Brian Ketterhagen and Sarah Brew, and a former investigator for the County Attorney’s Office, Randall Hanson.
The lawsuit states Deputy Lance Gehlhausen of the Sheriff’s Office secretly recorded the other three members of the investigative team saying they knew they should have turned over the police report before Willoughby’s first trial but didn’t because they didn’t want Willoughby to go free.
“We’ve proceeded with filing a lawsuit because nobody is above the law, not even law enforcement,” Sandefer said Thursday.
The lawsuit says Willoughby served three years in custody before he was released. It’s seeking undisclosed damages.
At Willoughby’s first trial, his ex-wife and a former friend testified they had all partied in Jackson the night before Ehlers was killed. They said Willoughby drove after Ehlers after she left a party in Jackson without paying him for drugs and shot her around 6 a.m. when she stopped at a turnout in Hoback Canyon.
Two days after the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld Willoughby’s life sentence on his first conviction in June 2011, Stelting issued a statement alleging evidence had been withheld from Willoughby’s defense team.
The evidence was a police report from officers in the town of Daniel.
, about 65 miles southeast of Jackson, stating they had met with Willoughby shortly after midnight on June 21, 1984, the day of Ehlers’ death.
Kerri Johnson, a lawyer with the Wyoming Public Defender’s Office, argued last year that the police report proved that the testimony regarding Willoughby meeting the victim just hours before her death was false.
Willoughby’s lawsuit states that Gehlhausen began secretly recording the other investigators after they failed to act on exculpatory evidence after he brought it to their attention. When he questioned them about it, the lawsuit says, the three responded that they intended to ignore the evidence because “if they find out that we knew that it’s exculpatory, he’s gonna ... walk.”
Sandefer said he believes prosecutors acted in good faith and turned over the materials they had to the defense.
“In a certain sense, this is a remarkable case, because you never see law enforcement wearing a wire and making an actual recording of other law enforcement officers,” Sandefer said. “This is the type of case where, if there had not been Lance Gehlhausen around, Mr. Willoughby would likely be incarcerated for the rest of his life.”