A McDuffie County Superior Court jury issued a guilty verdict against Brenda Kaye Ivie in the 2012 murder of her husband Ronald A. Willoughby.
Ivie, 63, also known as Kaye Ivie Willoughby, was found guilty of felony murder following a five-day trial that began Sept. 16. Willoughby, who is a resident of Loganville, was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Thomas “Britt” Hammond to life in prison for the Nov. 11, 2012 shooting murder of Ronald A. Willoughby, who was the owner of RonMart, a hardware store in Harlem.
The jury spent the week seeking to determine if the shooting at the home at 413 Lovelace Drive on Nov. 11, 2012 was a homicide or a suicide.
Thomson Police and emergency personnel were called to Willoughby’s home and found Willoughby dead from a gunshot wound to the chest.
Ivie, 63, was captured five years later after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation located her in Monroe, Georgia. She was arrested June 13, 2017 and charged with malice murder and felony murder. She pleaded not guilty to the charges July 6, 2017.
The Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney William “Bill” Doupe´ and Assistant District Attorney Debra Neumann presented a case that Ivie murdered her then husband. Defense Attorney Shawn K. Merzlak, of the Hawk Law Group, presented a case that suggested that Willoughby committed suicide.
Merzlak expressed sympathy to Ron Willoughby’s family but reiterated that the case was a suicide. “This case was a suicide. It was a suicide in 2012; it was a suicide in 2017. It is still a suicide today and will forever be a suicide,” he said in his closing remarks. He said that it was unfortunate because suicide leaves family and loved ones with unanswered questions.
The defense attorney spoke of the rights granted by the Georgia Constitution and the U.S. Constitution for conviction of a crime. “It guarantees that no person shall ever be convicted of any crime unless there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
“Kay Ivie absolutely did not shoot her husband on Nov. 12, 2012. She did not shoot her husband on any day,” he said. “This case was a suicide.”
Merzlak acknowledged that Willoughby suffered from depression and anxiety and was being treated. He said the investigators never followed up on the medical issue. He told the court that Willoughby’s anxiety and depression had accelerated to the degree that his medications had been increased but there was not evidence that he took the medicines. “Those who suffer from depression and anxiety are at a much greater risk of suicide,” he said.
The prosecution and the defense affirmed that the Ivie-Willoughby eight month marriage was troubled and they lived together in separate parts of the house on Lovelace Drive, a divorce was in process, and that Willoughby had been shot and a gun was found near his body.
“There is no evidence that Kaye Ivie ever touched the firearm that was found hear his body,” Merzlak said.
Both Doupe´ and Merzlak acknowledged that Ivie reported hearing a pop that could have been a gunshot that morning and she left the house. They offered differing views of Ivie’s actions following hearing the sound and before a friend called 911 about a possible gunshot at the house.
Doupe´ told the court that Ron Willoughby was found in bed with a gunshot wound to the left chest and that the gun was six inches from his chest when it was fired. He said Willoughby had a feeling that he was going to be harmed.
Both attorneys spoke about gunshot residue and how people come into contact with it, DNA and other findings in the case.
Doupe´ argued that the case was a domestic violence homicide. “What it boils down to is control,” he said. “In domestic violence homicide, it is usually in a home and there is two people present.”
He said the victim was dead and the defendant’s defense was a series of untruths, inconsistencies and manipulation. He also spoke of a 30-minute lapse gap in the time of the shooting and the call to 911.
“Whatever happened in that room when Willoughby was shot, she sat there," Doupe´ said. The district attorney also indicated the lack of evidence showing Willoughby was suicidal. “He had not chucked in the towel,” Doupe´ said. “He was out talking to people. He was forward thinking. The man wanted to live.”
He told the court that Ivie had motive and opportunity and had something to gain from Willoughby’s death.
The jury received the case at 2:46 p.m., Sept. 20 and returned with a guilty verdict for felony murder at 4:03 p.m. The judge polled the jury and each member confirmed that his or her verdict decision was freely and voluntarily made.
During the sentencing phase, Doupe´ said the ongoing case was doubly harmful to Willoughby’s loved ones as a result of domestic violence and the cloud of suggested suicide hanging over their heads.
He asked the court to render a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Before the sentencing, Barbara Belcher, one of Willoughby’s sisters, thanked the judicial system for taking the time to listen to the case and render the verdict. She told the court that Willoughby was the driving force for the family.
Martha Miller, the oldest sister, told the court that she observed many things because she was her brother’s neighbor. She asked the court to render a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Merzlak told the court that Ivie is ill and suffers from kidney cancer. He said the verdict the jury rendered left the court with little discretion that would be helpful to his client. He asked for a sentence of life with the possibility of parole.
Following the life sentence, Willoughby was remanded to the McDuffie County Sheriff’s Office to await transfer to the Department of Corrections.