The video image of Angela R. Willoughby, dying from multiple stab wounds in her Near East Side home, was too much for her eldest son to take.
Jonathan Willoughby lost control Tuesday in a Franklin County courtroom as body-camera video from one of the first Columbus police officers to arrive on the scene was being shown during the murder trial of his mother’s accused killer, Aaron T. Holston.
Willoughby, 31, jumped up from his first-row seat behind the prosecution’s table, briefly standing atop the wooden bench, and screamed that he was going to kill Holston. A Franklin County sheriff’s office deputy grabbed him and dragged him from the courtroom amid shouts and weeping from other family members.
Common Pleas Judge Kim Brown immediately called for a recess and sent the stunned jurors out of the courtroom.
It was unclear whether the outburst, the video evidence, or something else influenced Holston, but it wasn’t long after the trial resumed that he ended the proceedings by pleading guilty to aggravated murder in the slaying of his 49-year-old, live-in girlfriend, who was the mother of his five children. (Jonathan Willoughby is the victim’s son from a previous relationship.)
The judge sentenced Holston, 40, to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, which was recommended by prosecuting and defense attorneys as part of the plea agreement.
Before Holston decided to accept the plea deal early in the afternoon, the morning disruption prompted defense attorney Vincent Watkins to ask the judge to declare a mistrial.
“That was a pretty extreme outburst,” he said. “I’m still a bit shaken by what happened here, and I can’t believe the jury isn’t affected by this.”
Brown denied the request, instead bringing the jurors back and instructing them to disregard the outburst and not let it influence their consideration of the evidence.
The couple’s children, ranging in age from 9 to 17, were all home when Holston stabbed their mother during an argument in an upstairs bedroom of their house in the 900 block of Wilson Avenue on Sept. 9, 2018. The body-cam video from Officer James Tackett showed officers climbing the stairs and confronting Holston, who refused to drop the knife or leave the room where Willoughby lay dying, until Tackett subdued him with a stun gun. Willoughby was pronounced dead about a half-hour later at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center.
Two of Willoughby’s children witnessed the attack, including Aaron Holston Jr., now 18, who tried without success to get his father to drop the knife while a sister called 911.
“I’m just not the same,” the son tearfully told the judge before sentencing. “Just ever since that, it just messed up my head. It hurts to wake up in the morning. It hurts to do anything. I just want to let my dad know I forgive him. You know, I still love him.”
The defendant, his head bowed, declined to make a statement.