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Cache County Jail
Stacy Robert Willis

SALT LAKE CITY — A Hyrum man who beat his ex-girlfriend to death and later told the woman's young daughter she had been abandoned is a coward "full of excuses for your pathetic life," according to a judge who sentenced him to prison on Monday.

"You have lied to investigators, blamed non-existent disorders and now you are not even man enough to own up to what you really did," 1st District Judge Kevin Allen wrote in a scathing statement directed at the 42-year old Stacy Robert Willis.

Allen ordered Willis to at least 15 years in prison but recommended a life sentence in the death of Merrilee Cox-Lafferty, 37, whose body was found in September in a shallow grave in Left Hand Fork Canyon.

In a conversation with investigators ahead of his sentencing, Willis claimed to have "outburst disorder" and said the death was a mistake, according to the judge. Investigators said he told a friend he beat Cox-Lafferty to death after she backed his SUV into a tree.

"You don't have outburst disorder. You are just a mean, uncaring, self-absorbed horrible person," the judge's statement reads. If Willis had a legitimate diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder, he would have shown remorse or regret after killing his victim with his own hands, the judge continued.

"You chose to brutally take the life of a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend. You thought no one would care. But you were, once again, wrong."

After the killing, Willis drove Cox-Lafferty's daughter to her aunt's house in Boise, telling her that her mother's disappearance "was probably because Merrilee has just abandoned this little girl. That is incomprehensibly horrifying," the judge wrote.

Willis pleaded guilty in January to a reduced charge of murder, admitting to killing Cox-Lafferty on or about Aug. 18. She was reportedly returning from California with her young daughter in tow and with marijuana when she died.

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Willis, whom Allen called a "coward," was originally charged with capital murder, which carries a possible death sentence if convicted. His defense attorney Shannon Demler did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday.

The judge's statement says he hopes Cox-Lafferty's family can take some comfort in the "monumental efforts" of police, who he said pursued every lead.

As for Willis, Allen went on, "Your history and penchant for violence is such that you should take your last breath from behind bars."

Allen, a 1st District Judge of 11 years, announced last month that he will retire in August.