Hyrum man sentenced after death of California woman

Stacy Robert Willis appeared in 1st District Court with lawyer Shannon Demler on Monday, March 11, 2019. Willis was sentenced to 15 years to life for the murder of Merrilee Cox-Lafferty. Photo: Court pool

LOGAN, Utah, March 12, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — A Cache County man has been sentenced to prison in the beating death of a California woman.

Stacy Robert Willis, 42, was sentenced to 15 years to life after pleading guilty to the first-degree felony murder of Merrilee Cox-Lafferty, 37, a California resident with whom he had a relationship.

In exchange for his guilty plea, seven other charges were dropped with prejudice.

Those charges were:

  • Stacy Robert Willis. Photo: Cache County

    Three counts of obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony

  • Possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, a second-degree felony
  • Two counts of possession or use of a controlled substance, a class B misdemeanor
  • Criminal mischief — intentional damage, defacement or destruction of property, a class B misdemeanor.

In addition, the plea deal changed the murder charge from a capital felony to a first-degree felony, removing the possibility of a death sentence for Willis.

Investigators believe the murder occurred on Aug. 18 of last year, and that Willis buried the body of Cox-Lafferty in an area east of Hyrum, according to court documents. Cox-Lafferty was in the area to help a friend move, and is believed to have spent the night before her murder with Willis.

Willis later told a friend about the murder, and the friend contacted police, according to reports. Willis reportedly told his friend he killed Cox-Lafferty in anger after she accidentally backed his SUV into a tree.

According to a report by the Herald Journal, which interviewed Cox-Lafferty’s brother, the victim was a single mother with epilepsy who considered Willis the love of her life, and who suffered from memory and mobility issues.

Merrilee Cox-Lafferty. Photo: Obituary

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