Suspended Family Court Judge Steven Jones waited 35 minutes before calling 911 to report that he discovered the body of his girlfriend, Lisa Willardson, at her Henderson home the day after Christmas, according to a police report obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The partially censored report, written by Henderson Detective Chad Mitchell, said an emotionally upset Jones indicated he had first gone to Willardson’s home about 7:30 p.m. on Christmas Day after returning from a trip to Brian Head, Utah, with his children. He saw that the house was dark and both of the former prosecutor’s cars were in her driveway.
Even though he had a key, Jones told police he did not go inside the house, assuming she was either asleep or having Christmas dinner with friends.
He said that after Willardson failed to respond to text messages, he returned to her home the following afternoon and found her lying on the floor of the bathroom in a spare bedroom. She was dressed in a gray sweatshirt with black sweat pants, and her pants and underwear were pulled down.
Jones described Willardson as “cold to the touch” and “stiff.”
Video surveillance at Willardson’s gated community shows Jones entered the gate in his Ford pickup truck at 2:49 p.m., the police report said.
Jones, a veteran of nearly 25 years on the Family Court bench, told Mitchell he was confused after finding Willardson’s body and didn’t know whether he should call 911, so he left the house and went to his mother’s home.
From there, Jones said he talked to his daughter, Ashley, who told him to call 911. Both Jones and his daughter then headed back to Willardson’s home, where records show he placed the call from his cell phone at 3:24 p.m.
“Steven stated that he knew that 911 would need to be called if there were any signs of life, yet since Lisa was obviously deceased, he did not know if this would be the appropriate number to call,” Mitchell wrote.
In a recording of the 911 call obtained by the Review-Journal, Jones appears to be crying as he explains the discovery of Willardson’s body.
“It looks like it’s an accident,” he says. “It looks like she just collapsed in front of the toilet.”
Jones was also “visibly upset and crying” when Mitchell arrived at the house to interview him, according to the police report.
Later, Mitchell said he obtained a search warrant for the judge’s cell phone records and viewed video surveillance of Jones entering and leaving the gated community to check out the judge’s story. He also reviewed Willardson’s cell phone records.
A sworn affidavit Mitchell filed laying out the probable cause for obtaining Jones’ cell phone records was ordered sealed at Mitchell’s request by Henderson Justice of the Peace Rodney Burr. It remains sealed — even though Henderson police have found no signs of foul play and closed their investigation and the Clark County coroner has concluded Willardson died of an accidental drug overdose.
Mitchell said in his report that the story Jones told him was corroborated by the videotapes and telephone records he reviewed.
The detective included several redacted pages of text messages, mostly between Jones and Willardson, in the days before her death. There also were messages from Jones and others to Willardson after her death. All names other than Jones and Willardson were redacted from the messages attached to the report, and some of the more intimate conversations between the couple were omitted.
The last text message Willardson sent on her phone was at 1:14 p.m. on Dec. 25, when she wished an unidentified person “Merry Christmas” and said she had “good news.”
Jones texted Willardson at 7:44 p.m. Christmas Day, asking “Are you awake sweetie?”
He got no response.
He sent several messages to her the next day, again without responses.
At 11:36 a.m., Jones texted, “Good morning beautiful. How are you doing?”
One minute later, he sent the message, “Came by to see you twice last night, but you weren’t there or were asleep.”
Then, at 11:49 a.m., Jones texted, “Have you seen the paper? That was their present to me on Christmas Eve.”
His last message at 1:29 p.m. read, “Hey baby are you OK?”
The Christmas Eve present Jones referred to was the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline’s written decision, first reported by the Review-Journal, that Jones had mishandled his romantic relationship with Willardson and violated professional rules of conduct.
The commission, which later suspended Jones without pay for three months, concluded that Jones had improperly maintained the relationship with Willardson while she litigated cases before him as a deputy district attorney and then failed to disqualify himself from her cases.
At the scene of Willardson’s death, Jones told Mitchell that he and Willardson did not have a fight before he left for Brian Head and that the two had been texting each other every day while he was there.
But he said Willardson had a hard time dealing with the negative publicity generated by the judicial commission investigation and developed “severe anxiety.” Jones also said Willardson was seeing a psychiatrist and experimenting with medications to ease her depression, according to the police report.
Officers found several bottles of prescriptions made out to Willardson on her kitchen counter, including diazepam or Valium, the antidepressant Lexapro, the painkiller hydrocodone and zolpidem, which is found in the sleep medication Ambien, the report said.
The death scene and the condition of Willardson’s body also were described in the report.
When investigators arrived at the Henderson home, her body was lying on its right side with her head near the bathroom door and feet between the toilet and bath tub. Rigor mortis had set in, and her knees were slightly bent. There was a small “injury” on the right side of her forehead, presumably from a fall. Next to her body were several sheets of toilet paper.
Mitchell wrote that it looked like Willardson either fell off the toilet or while bending down to pull up or down her pants.
Then he added, “I observed nothing on her body or in the bathroom that would suggest foul play was involved in her death.”