Preliminary hearing set for Hyrum man charged with beating woman to death

LOGAN — A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Stacy “Rob” Willis. The 41-year-old Hyrum man is suspected of killing a California woman, Merrilee Cox-Lafferty, in Blacksmith Fork Canyon.

Willis was in 1st District Court Monday afternoon. He has been charged with capital murder; three counts of obstruction of justice and possession of a dangerous weapon, all second-degree felonies; and four misdemeanors.

Defense attorney Shannon Demler told the court he was still trying to gather all the evidence in the case and was waiting for an autopsy to be completed. He asked the court to schedule the preliminary hearing, where Judge Kevin Allen will determine if prosecutors have sufficient evidence to bind Willis over for trial.

Police arrested Willis September 14 after finding Cox-Lafferty’s body in a make-shift grave, at a campground eight-miles east of Hyrum. Her family had reported her missing August 21, three days after several witnesses saw her and the suspect fighting. The woman had reportedly traveled to the area to help a friend move and meet up with the defendant.

Police allege that Willis took Cox-Lefferty to the campsite in Left Hand Fork Canyon on the afternoon of August 18. He then beat her to death and buried her body in a rocky area, under a tree. He later told a friend that he pulled her from his car after she backed into a tree, breaking the vehicle’s rear-window. He bragged about killing her with “elbow blows” and later took the friend to the campsite where her body was buried.

A second acquaintance told officers Willis asked him to drive Cox-Lafferty’s car to Boise, Idaho and leave it in a hotel parking lot. The car was later found by officers and returned to Logan City investigators.

The capital murder charge means Willis could be sentenced to death if convicted. State attorneys have not said though whether or not they will seek the death penalty.

Willis did not speak during Monday’s court appearance. He remains in jail, being held without bail. He had recently been released from prison after being convicted of shooting at a couple outside the North Logan Walmart in July 2014.

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