January 3, 2014
A Jackson County judge sentenced Ja A. Ray, 43, to 25 years in a Missouri prison for the Nov. 11, 2012 murder of Essence Willoughby, 21.
As part of a plea agreement, Ray will serve at least 85 percent of the 25-year sentence for Murder 2nd Degree. Ray also was sentenced today to seven years in prison on a pending drug possession charge and five years for a 2010 domestic assault that involved Willoughby. Ray had been on probation for the assault but his murder conviction triggered revocation of that probation. All sentences are to run concurrently.
Essence Willoughby was found in November 2012 after her 3-year-old son led police to her body in a wooded area near the intersection of Leeds Trafficway and Stadium Drive.
Page Bellamy, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, told the judge that the victim’s family supported the disposition of the case, with Willoughby’s killer serving more than 20 years in prison. Jalilah Otto and Caleb Clifford also worked on the prosecution team.
“This outcome saves this strong family of the victim the continuing grief of a trial,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. “The hero in this case is the 3-year-old who witnessed this horrific tragedy. He was ready to tell the truth about those horrible events. His actions brought justice.”