47-year-old Paula Willoughby was supposed to spend the rest of her life in prison after she was convicted in a murder plot to kill her husband, Darrell Willoughby, in July 1991.
But after four years of negotiation Willoughby’s team of defense attorney’s successfully got her out early. Her defense Attorneys reached an agreement with Prosecutors in Carl Brizzi’s office to, in effect, drop the thirty year conspiracy sentence that Paula was still facing.
Under the agreement, citing precedent from another case, the sentences for murder and conspiracy to commit murder were changed to run concurrently rather than consecutively.
“She needs to be back in prison where she belongs,” said Jessie Willoughby, Darrell’s sister.
“To be nine years old and figure out how someone could murder your uncle, it was horrifying,” said Dawn Sherfield, Darrell’s niece.
Paula served just 18 years of what was originally a 110 year sentence. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi was not available for comment Wednesday.
“We had a case where we had family members petitioning our office and asking for modification of sentence,” said Helen Marchal a prosecutor in the office.
But extended family members say, while some members including Darrell’s biological mother signed off on the sentence modification, other family members who say they were closer to Darrell weren’t notified of any hearings or plans for modifications for Willoughby’s release.
“More than anything I’m dumbfounded this is where our judicial system is at. At the drop of a hat the right amount of money can buy you freedom,” said Jessie Willoughby. Reports in 2000 show Paula’s father with a net worth of $20 million. Members of Darrell’s family say they always suspected his money could eventually buy the power of good attorneys and Paula an early ticket out of jail.
Under Indiana law Prosecutors have the right to modify a sentence but legal experts say this agreement is highly unusual and warrants a direct explanation from Brizzi.
“He now has to explain if this is a blanket rule for his office and if so, why this woman gets benefits not extended to others,” said IUPUI school of Law professor Henry Karlson.
” It is highly unusual but the facts and circumstance in this case warranted this decision and we stand by it,” said Marchal.