Fox 59 investigation links millionaire to prosecutor in convicted killer case

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Paula Willoughby was released last summer after serving 18 years of an original 110-year sentence for arranging the murder of her husband Darrell Willoughby in 1991.

Brizzi’s office signed off on the sentence modification after Darrell Willoughby’s mother agreed not to oppose Paula Willoughby’s early release. But Darrell’s sister tells Fox 59 News that Epperly’s money bought the mother’s cooperation.

“He bought her out. That’s exactly what everybody says,” said Denise Vogt, Darrell Willoughby’s younger sister. “They seen it as he got what he wanted.”

Vogt said in late 2005, Epperly sent a family member to negotiate with Dorothy Willis to secure her support for her ex-daughter-in-law’s early release from prison.

“He asked my mom and dad on many occasions if they would do it…that they would get some money if they would do it. One time an amount mentioned of $10,000 and another time an amount mentioned of $25,000.”

Vogt said she didn’t know how much money, if any, was paid to Dorothy Willis and her husband who signed verified statements not opposing Willoughby’s early release.

After the statements were signed in December of 2005, Willoughby’s attorneys approached David Wyser, chief trial deputy under prosecutor Carl Brizzi. Wyser turned down the sentence modification request but left the door open for Willoughby’s attorneys to approach his office again in 2009 when Willoughby would’ve served nearly half of her murder sentence and would be eligible for a shorter sentence.

In late 2006, family members tell Fox 59 News that it was common knowledge in the Epperly family that Harrison Epperly, businessman, golf course and real estate owner, met on at least two occasions with Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi to talk about his daughter’s early release from prison. On October 23, 2006, Epperly’s company, EMSP, llc, wrote the Brizzi for Prosecutor campaign a check for $5000. Ten days later, on November 3rd, the weekend before Brizzi’s hotly contested and expensive campaign versus democrat Melina Kennedy, EMSP, llc, issued a second check to the Brizzi campaign for $20,000. From 2006-2008, EMPS, llc, and Epperly himself made campaign donations totalling $29,000 to Carl Brizzi campaigns.

Late last month the prosecutor sent the money back to Epperly, admitting that he did so after it became known that Fox 59 was on the verge of breaking the Willoughby story. On January 30th, on WIBC Radio, Brizzi indicated to guest and former I-U law professor Henry Karlson that he may not have known that Epperly was behind the 2006 donations.

“Did you know the money came from an llc?” Brizzi asked Karlson who replied he did not know the donations came from a company. “See, this is my problem,” said Brizzi. “Reporters didn’t tell (Karlson) that it came from an llc that was four initials (EMSP). Would that make a difference to you in your opinion?” Karlson responded, “It would raise questions as to whether or not you were aware of any conflict.” “Exactly,” said Brizzi. “Exactly.”

In that same radio appearance Brizzi attacked Fox 59’s reporting as, “reckless, irresponsible, rating-monger,” and vowed not to cooperate with Fox 59’s investigation. Brizzi also claimed Fox 59 reported that he was under investigation by the FBI. Fox 59 has reported that FBI agents have asked questions about Brizzi and possible influence peddling.

Chief Trial Deputy David Wyser, who is running for prosecutor in Hamilton County, also accepted $2500 from Harrison Epperly on May 29, 2009, less than a month before the deal he negotiated for Paula Willoughby’s early release was filed with the court. Wyser returned that campaign donation last month at about the same time when it became known that Fox 59 was investigating the Willoughby case.

Fox 59 has also learned that Brizzi’s hand picked successor for the republican nomination, chief of staff Helen Marchal, dropped out of the race when she became aware of the pending story linking Brizzi and Wyser to the sentence modification and the Epperly campaign donations.

Epperly refused comment when contacted by Fox 59 News. Willoughby was unavailable for comment.