published Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

One of trio charged in Fort Payne, AL man's death gets life

A Fort Payne, Ala., man who is one of three people charged in the December slaying of Boaz resident Gary Lee Willis pleaded guilty to murder Monday in Marshall County, Ala.

Michael Stanley Townsel Jr., 28 at the time of his arrest in January, entered his plea before Marshall County Circuit Court Judge Tim Jolley, who sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole, court records state.

Townsel's life sentence is recommended to run between 20 and 85 years.

Townsel also was ordered to avoid contact with any members of the Willis family, attend anger management training and pay court costs and attorney fees. He is not eligible for "correctional incentive time," off his sentence for good behavior, and must pay an undetermined amount to the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Assessment, records state.

Townsel's attorney, Michael Stevens, said he discussed the case and plea with Townsel "in great depth."

"Mr. Townsel realized ... the great harm that he did not only to the victim, Gary Willis, but also to the family," Stevens said on Tuesday. "He wanted to begin making amends with the family in this way, and he didn't want to drag them through anything more than what they've already been through."

Townsel was charged in the killing along with Albertville, Ala., residents Christopher Todd Cagle and Delia May Downs, ages 28 and 33, respectively, at the time of their arrests. Cagle is charged with murder, hindering prosecution and kidnapping. Downs is charged with hindering prosecution and kidnapping.

Cagle and Downs remain behind bars in Marshall County on $1 million bonds.

Willis, 38, was reported missing in Etowah County late last year.

Authorities say they established that Willis had been at a home on Old McVille Road -- off of Alabama Highway 75 -- near the Marshall-DeKalb county line on Dec. 13, and that he was taken from that location against his will.

His bullet-riddled body was found inside a burning car in DeKalb County on County Road 135 near the town of Geraldine on Dec. 17. He had been shot multiple times with a small-caliber pistol.

The trio was charged first in Marshall County with kidnapping while police sorted out where the slaying happened, since the investigation involved three adjoining counties. They were held in DeKalb County until investigators established venue for the slaying, then transferred to Marshall County.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

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about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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