Brenda Kay Ivie is on trial for the shooting death of her husband Ronald A. Willoughby.
The murder trial of Ivie, who is also known as Kay Ivie Willoughby, began Sept. 16 in McDuffie County Superior Court. A jury of 12 plus two alternates is hearing a case to determine if the shooting death of Ronald Willoughby at 413 Lovelace Drive on Nov. 11, 2012 was a homicide or a suicide.
Thomson Police and emergency personnel were called to the home and found Willoughby dead from a gunshot wound to the chest. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation had been investigating the murder since 2012.
Willoughby, 62, 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 trial was initially scheduled to be held in April but scheduling conflicts in McDuffie County Superior Court made it necessary to reschedule the trial to Sept. 16. Judge Thomas “Britt” Hammond is presiding and the trial was expected to last at least five days.
The Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney William “Bill Doupe´ and Assistant District Attorney Debra Neumann are presenting a case that Ivie murdered her husband.
Defense Attorney Shawn K. Merzlak, of the Hawk Law Group, and assisted by Victor Hawk, is presenting a case suggesting that Willoughby committed suicide.
Both attorneys’s defined the case a puzzle that the jury must put together to get a clear picture.
In his opening statements, Doupe´ described Ronald Willoughby as a prosperous businessman but also a man with troubles. He said Willoughby was a man with multiple marriages and had married Kay Ivie in November 2011. Before they could complete building their home on Stagecoach Road, the marriage developed problems and before the end of 2012, Ron Willoughby wanted Brenda Kay Ivie out of his home, which was the Willoughby family home. He began divorce proceedings.
“Kay Ivie moved into the family home at 413 Lovelace Drive in November 2011. Because it was the home he grew up in, his decision to stay in that house when the relationship went bad ended up being a fatal mistake,” Doupe´ said.
Doupe´ told the court that there were negotiations about what it would take to get Ivie out of the house occurring. He said she thought the monetary offerings were too low and she opted to remain in the house.
“The divorce proceedings and the two living in the same home was a recipe for disaster,” the district attorney said. He also informed the court that Willoughby suffered from anxiety and depression.
Doupe´ indicated that Willoughby was going to file for divorce on Nov. 1, 2012 and had spoken of feeling that something bad was going to happen to him.
The court heard a 911 recording where Willoughby reached out to police Oct. 31, 2012 because he was afraid that something was going to happen to him.
The divorce was filed Nov. 1, 2012 and Ivie was served with documents on Nov. 6. Willoughby changed his will on Nov. 7, Doupe´ said.
“He had this feeling that something was going to go wrong and that something was going to happen to him. He was worried because the will that was in affect before Nov. 7 2012 left half to his daughter Rhonda Willoughby and the other half to Kay Ivie.”
Doupe´ told the jury of Willoughby’s belief that Ivie was unfaithful and was and hired a private investigator on Nov. 9, 2012. He said she had been involved with her former husband.
“On Nov. 11, Ron Willoughby was dead. It was 10 days from the filing of the divorce,” he said.
Doupe´ reported Kay Ivie being in the house that morning and that she stated that she heard a pop. Not knowing what the sound was, she left the house. “She thought it might have been a gunshot,” he said, adding that 911 was not called until she reached out to a friend, who called 911.
“Ron Willoughby was found in bed with a gunshot wound to the left chest,” he said. Doupe´ said the gun was six inches from his chest when it was fired.
Daughter Rhonda Willoughby of Thomson testified that her father feared for his life. She said he told her that “Greediness is going to get me killed.” She said, he told her that “if anything every happened to me, I did not do it.”
According to Merzlak, the case is about suicide. “This is a suicide. It was then and it still is today and it forever will be,” he said. The attorney also referred to Willoughby’s anxiety and depression.
He told the court that that all parties agree that on Nov. 11, 2012 Willoughby died from a gunshot wound. “What we do not agree on is what we believe the evidence will show,” Merzlak said. “We do not know how it occurred but we believe it was a suicide,” he said.
“On that particular day, Kay Willoughby, now Kay Ivie, was in her house and had been at her former husband’s house the previous night,” the attorney said. He noted that Ivie visited her former husband’s home to check her emails because Willoughby had disconnect the Internet at their home as well as to visit her friend. He said Ivie was searching for a job because she too wanted out of the marriage.
Merzlak talked about how the deterioration of the marriage escalated Willoughby’s anxiety levels and the common behaviors associated with suicidal ideation. He also spoke about gunshot residue and how people come into contact with it, DNA and other findings in the case,
He said that just like suicide leaves a lot of questions for those left behind and very few answers, the trial was going to do the same.
“You are not going to hear anything that places Kay Ivie in that room when Willoughby was shot,” he said. “There are no witnesses to this case,” he said. “I wish there were.” He told the jury that at the end of the case, the puzzle is not going to be solved.
“At the end, you will have an unsolved puzzle where the evidence is that Ron Willoughby committed suicide,” he said.