Updated 5:30 pm
Jason Willoughby was arraigned on a manslaughter charge Monday in Barnstable Superior Court for his alleged role in the death of a woman from a drug overdose. He was indicted by a Dukes County grand jury on Oct. 18.
Willoughby pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge, as well as distribution of a Class B substance (fentanyl), and conspiracy to violate the Controlled Substance Act. The arraignment was held off-Island because Dukes County Superior Court is not in session. Willoughby’s bail was set at $5,000 by Judge Robert Rufo at the close of the arraignment. Jessica Croker, an assistant district attorney, had argued that bail should be set at $50,000. Jason Willoughby would not be able to afford $50,000 bail, Moriarty told the judge in arguing for a lower bail for his client.
“You have to differentiate between paupers and plutocrats, and he’s as close to a pauper as you’re going to get,” Moriarty said. Moriarty also cited the reliability that Willoughby has exhibited in showing up for past court dates.
According to Croker, Willoughby allegedly supplied the drugs that led to the woman’s death.
The hearing provided a window into Moriarty’s defense strategy. Moriarty argued that it was Leo Willoughby, the cousin of Jason Willoughby’s father, who is responsible for injecting the woman with a lethal cocktail of drugs that included fentanyl. He alleged that Leo Willoughby was also present when another Island woman died of an overdose, and referred to him as the “Grim Reaper of Martha’s Vineyard.” Moriarty further alleged Leo Willoughby was party to other overdoses on the Vineyard, and that incapacitating people with drugs to rob them was his modus operandi.
Croker told the judge that the evidence does not support the theory that Leo Willoughby injected the woman with drugs. “There’s no evidence in my possession or any evidence that was presented to the grand jury that Leo Willoughby injected the deceased,” she said.
“This case is wholly dependent on the word of Leo Willoughby,” Moriarty said.
Moriarty described Leo Willoughby as a “notorious drug addict” and a “notorious drug dealer” who has been a confidential informant for the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force. Work as an informant has immunized Leo Willoughby from prosecution, Moriarty said.
“This is not a person that they should be asking a jury to believe beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “It’s a person they should be prosecuting.”
Moriarty predicted that Leo Willoughby’s testimony would “be completely and utterly destroyed in cross-examination.”
A trial date of April 16 was scheduled in Dukes County Superior Court.
Updated to add more details. – Ed.