Turning Tale

In a luridly chilling videotape, a transsexual who helped convict her lover of murdering his wife says she did it herself

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge J.D. Howe, who granted the motion for Willoughby's new trial, is retired. Prosecutors have asked the Arizona Court of Appeals to overturn his June ruling that Patino's previous testimony is inadmissible. And they have asked Judge Frank Galati, who inherited the case, to rule that if Patino testifies and says Willoughby had nothing to do with the murder, they may reveal her prior inconsistent testimony.

Even without Patino, the Trish Willoughby murder case would be a tragic, shocking crime. Nice churchgoing wife and mother heads to Rocky Point for a weekend getaway with nice, churchgoing husband and their three children. She ends up dead, brutally attacked in her bed, discovered by her children as they return from an outing with their dad. Husband is accused of murdering his wife to collect $1 million in insurance.

With Patino involved, the crime became sensational, a juicy tale that is the stuff of pulp novels and B movies. A recently published true-crime paperback called Damaged Goods trumpets the case with cover blurbs: "A depraved secret life," "A twisted sexual obsession drove him to murder" and "16 pages of shocking photos!" -- most of which are family album-type shots depicting the victim and her family, and photographs of Patino as both Yesenia and Alfredo Patino.

Yesenia Patino
Yesenia Patino

Even without such screaming headlines, the case as told in court records, two books and numerous articles is titillating. Patino, now 44, began life as a man (some say a hermaphrodite) and became a woman through surgery. She says she used drugs, had 1,000 lovers and carried on a torrid affair with Dan Willoughby while she was married to two other men. Willoughby, muscular and tanned in photographs, had no idea she was a transsexual until after the murder of his wife. (Now 61, he sports glasses, the pale pallor of incarceration and a long thinning gray ponytail.)

Even if Patino doesn't testify, another attention-grabbing participant may get involved. Rubin Carter, whose wrongful murder conviction was retold last year in the movie The Hurricanestarring Denzel Washington, may attend Willoughby's trial.

Carter, executive director of the center to help others wrongly convicted, met Willoughby in Maricopa County Jail in the spring when the talk show Politically Incorrect was taped there, and Carter believes he is innocent.

Siegel says he thinks the sexual aspects of the case may have tainted public opinion about Dan Willoughby. He retells the murder story from Willoughby's perspective in his book and says Willoughby may be guilty only of a midlife crisis, an indiscreet affair and "being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person."

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