Murder suspect allegedly beat California woman to death

September 19, 2018

A Hyrum man was charged Monday in 1st District Court with aggravated murder, a capital offense eligible for the death penalty, in connection with the death of a missing California woman.

Stacy Robert Willis, 41, was arrested at gunpoint in the parking lot at Ridley’s Marketplace on Friday after law enforcement officers discovered the woman’s remains in a shallow grave near Blacksmith Fork Canyon in an investigation that led them to Willis.

The woman, 37-year-old Merrilee Cox-Lafferty, went missing in August, just one day after arriving in Cache Valley.

According to a probable cause statement, she arrived in Cache Valley on Friday, Aug. 17, and spent the night with Willis at his home that night, and she was last seen with him the next day.

Last week, a Logan man told police that Willis brought Cox-Lafferty to his home on Saturday, Aug. 18, and while they were there, there was some argument between the two over dealing drugs. The man said he told Willis to get her to stop screaming because he didn’t want any trouble in his apartment complex, the court record states.

Willis allegedly said he and Cox-Lafferty were driving to Boise, and he returned alone about four hours later with the news that he “took care of the problem,” prompting his friend to ask what happened. It was then that he reportedly told the other man that Cox-Lafferty backed his SUV into a tree, and he pulled her from the vehicle and beat her to death.

According to Cache County Chief Deputy Attorney Tony Baird, Willis was charged with aggravated homicide based upon a prior conviction of felony discharge of a firearm, stemming from a dispute with another man in the North Logan Walmart.

The aggravated factor makes the alleged murder of Merrilee Cox-Rafferty a capital offense and gives prosecutors the ability to seek the death penalty. Baird said that decision has not been made at this point.

Aggravated murder carries a possible sentence of either 25 years to life, or life without parole unless prosecutors file a motion to seek the death penalty.

Attorneys Shannon Demler and Mike McGinnis were appointed to represent Willis in this case, and they will return to court with Willis on Oct. 1 for a pretrial conference.

Until then, he will remain in the custody of the Cache County Jail, without bail.

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