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Cache County Jail
Stacy Robert Willis

LOGAN — A Hyrum man has admitted to killing his ex-girlfriend, who police say was delivering marijuana to him with her young daughter in tow when she died.

Stacy Robert Willis, 41, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a reduced charge of murder in the death of Merrilee Cox-Lafferty, 37, telling a judge her beating death "was an accident," the Logan Herald-Joural reported.

He originally was charged in Logan's 1st District Court with capital murder, which carries a possible death sentence if convicted.

Cox-Lafferty's body was found Sept. 14 in a shallow grave in Left Hand Fork Canyon, police said. She drove to Utah on Aug. 17 from California with her daughter and was reported missing on Aug. 21, according to detectives.

Willis told officers he had gotten into a heated argument with Cox-Lafferty, police said. He allegedly told a friend that she backed his SUV into a tree and he beat her to death after pulling her from the car.

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Willis' defense attorney, Shannon Demler, said outside the courtroom Wednesday the two had previously dated and he didn’t take her to the canyon intending to kill her. He took responsibility Wednesday, Demler said.

As part of an agreement with prosecutors and in exchange for his guilty plea, the state agreed not to file more charges, court documents state. Several felony charges against him were dismissed, including obstructing justice and possessing a dangerous weapon, in addition to other misdemeanor drug charges.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 11.