Editors Note: Continue down the story to see all three parts of this special report, as well as links to other extended video elements.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Angela Cannon did not get much sleep the night of October 15, 2021. She tossed and turned; her thoughts raced through her head like a runaway freight train and were all over the place. So were her emotions.
When the sun finally surfaced in the small town of Camden, Arkansas, she knew she would need to dig deep into her soul to find the strength and courage she would need for the rest of the day.
What she was getting ready to do should have already taken place, but a simple mistake stripped her of that right. And when it did, the pain she had been carrying inside for nearly two and half years once again resurfaced. But this time, she prays things will be different.
A location and time have been set and everyone involved has agreed to meet. That was what scared Angela the most. She was nervous, really nervous, and had every right to be because she was about to see the man who killed her daughter and grandson for the very first time, face to face, since their killings.
Getting the message no parent ever wants
On June 25, 2019, Angela received the news no mother ever wants to hear or imagine. Authorities with the Camden police department called her to let her know that her 20-year-old daughter, Alyssa, and 4-year-old grandson, Braydon, were found murdered inside their home.
She also learned that the primary suspect was Alyssa’s fiancé, Jory Worthen, who at the time of the discovery was already long gone. A nationwide manhunt was launched, and tips started pouring in from across the country. But each sighting turned out to be a false alarm.
Law enforcement got their first break a month after the murders, when Alyssa’s 2007 white Honda Accord was found abandoned at a gas station in Seattle, Washington.
Worthen was nowhere to be found at that time, but on October 6, 2020, 16 months after the murders, U.S. Marshals tracked Worthen down at a hotel in Burbank, California, and placed him in cuffs.
Nine days later, under heavy guard, he was brought back to Camden and charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
What happened next caught everyone off guard. Worthen accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to life in prison.
The only problem, Angela and her family weren’t at the hearing, and it wasn’t by choice.
Email mistake silences a mother’s voice
According to Arkansas state law, a victim has the right to be in court for all hearings and is allowed to submit a victim’s impact statement to the court. But Angela was stripped of that legal right due to an unfortunate mistake.
It turns out that the victim’s advocate handling her case was not at work the day an email was sent with information about Worthen’s upcoming court date.
The advocate did not see the message until the hearing was over, and by then it was too late.
When Angela was told of the development, she broke down and cried, wondering once again if she would ever get the justice and closure she so desperately deserves.
A short drive to a long-time reckoning
The drive over to the Ouachita County jail took less than ten minutes. Angela’s mother was behind the wheel, her son Ryan was in the back seat.
On the way over, tears flowed from Angela’s face as she thought about her daughter and grandson. Wiping tears away from her face, she fumbled through her notes, reviewing them one more time, making sure she didn’t leave anything out.
When they arrived at the sheriff’s office, it was apparent Angela was getting more nervous. Her hands were shaking, her breathing was heavy and the tears she shed in the car were still evident on her face.
Sheriff Doug Norwood greeted the family as they walked inside the jail. Without his approval, none of this would have taken place.
Angela and other family members, including Braydon Ponder’s great grandparents, went through a metal detector before gathering in a corner inside the jail about 15 yards away from where the face-to-face meeting would take place.
Angela was trying to catch her breath while her son Ryan did his best to console her as the moment she had waited nearly two years for was about to happen.
Coming face-to-face with a killer
At this point, Jory Worthen was out of sight, locked up tight in his jail cell. But then, out of nowhere, the sound of a huge metal door being unlocked echoed through the hallway.
Angela whispered, “Oh God, I think that’s him,” as an armed guard opened yet another metal door. The sounds of chains rattling on the floor and the shuffle of feet could be heard as Worthen came around the corner with two armed jailers on each side of him.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit and standing about 6 feet 2 inches tall, he was clean-shaven, and much leaner compared to when he was arrested in California.
His hands dangled in front of him in handcuffs, and when he entered the room the sight of the cameras and studio lights from FOX 16 News appeared to surprise him.
Worthen then sat down in a metal chair, waiting and unsure of what would happen next.
Angela had been down the hallway with her family and the sheriff when Worthen was escorted into the room, but she heard the chains hitting the floor and was even more noticeably nervous.
The moment she has waited for, the one she was denied when Worthen was sentenced, had finally arrived. All that was left was for her to walk down the hallway, sit down and somehow find the strength and courage to look her daughter and grandson’s killer in the face and read her impact statement.
What happened next was something no one expected, including Worthen.
From heartbreak to healing
In a rare and raw moment, Angela began her statement recounting the pain from she learned of the killings before talking about the incalculable loss she grapples with each and every day.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Aylssa and Braydon. I wonder what they would be doing now and what Braydon would look like and sound like now,” she read. “Alyssa was so beautiful and had the biggest heart of anyone I know. She lit up any room she walked into. She touched so many lives with her kindness.”
Sobbing, Angela continued by telling Worthen of the life and future he robbed from her grandson.
“And my little Braydon. God he was so smart and so bright and full of love and joy,” she said. “I can only imagine the person he would have become, and it kills me every day to not know. I miss them both so much.”
The grieving mother then told Worthen that not only had he stolen lover from her life, but from his own as well.
“She loved you with everything in her,” Angela said of her daughter. “And all she wanted was to help you and to have a loving home and family. And I hope you realize that you’ll never have that love again, forever. It’s gone. It’s gone.”
It was then that she shared what may be the most surprising part of her statement.
“I come here today hoping to get at least some peace and some type of closure. I also was hoping that this would finally help me with my healing process and give me the courage and strength I needed to say that I forgive you,” Angela told him. “Because that’s what God says, we have to forgive. And the forgiveness is for me and my healing and my peace, so that I can go on.”
After a long pause, Worthen finally sighs and says, “I’m so sorry Angela,” as he tries to share her grief.
“I know that I can’t begin to imagine what any of you are going through, any of you,” he said. “And I know that this has caused so much pain and suffering, mentally and emotionally.”
Angela then questioned him, trying to uncover what led to the deaths of her loved ones.
“I was… The last thing I remember is us having fun when we were over at y’all’s house and drinking,” Worthen offered. “I took Xanax and Ecstasy and that’s the last thing I remember.”
She added that she had spoken with her family and they all forgave Worthen, who continued to apologize.
“I accept your apology. I do,” Angela said before noting that while she may forgive, she won’t forget. “But it will never bring them back or make it better. but thank you for doing this…. for me.”
Following the tense but cathartic meeting, Angela explained she had to meet with Worthen in person for not only her peace of mind but also to help her to try and move forward.
The hardest part, she said, was being that close to the man who took the lives of her daughter and grandchild and looking him in the eye.
A killer shares his memories of the night two lives ended
After Angela left the room, Worthen spoke exclusively with FOX 16 News.
In earlier letters sent to the station, he wrote that “a lot of horrible and nasty things have been said about me,” and that he had been seen as “some kind of monster or evil person.”
Worthen pushed back on those characterizations, saying “that is just not me. It’s not who I am or who I was.”
Realizing that many would have a hard time accepting that after his actions, Worthen claimed that at the time of the killings, he was a family man.
“I’m just a normal guy. I loved music. I loved hanging out with my friends and my family,” he said. “I loved Alyssa and Braydon. I was a family man. I was at home with them almost all the time. We went everywhere together, and we were happy.”
That happiness was shattered on June 22, 2019, after a family cookout at Angela’s home. While the family was enjoying themselves that night, Worthen admitted that before the get-together he had spent two straight days drinking heavily and taking Xanax and Ecstasy.
“We were all outside listening to music and that’s really the last thing I remember,” he said. “The last thing I remember was getting a cigarette from Alyssa.”
Police records show Worthen, Alyssa and Braydon left the cookout at around midnight and drove home.
What happened next inside their Camden home was brutal and unimaginable. According to the medical examiner, Alyssa was beaten and strangled to death while Braydon died from repeated blows to his head.
Police made the gruesome discovery three days after the cookout, after Angela filed a missing persons report.
So, what happened? Worthen claims he doesn’t remember because he blacked out only to wake up and find Alyssa and Braydon dead.
“I found the bodies. I woke up, I was looking for them. I called for Alyssa and I went around the house and looked for them and I found the bodies,” he said.
Worthen then said he “freaked out” and that “there were so many things going through my head.” He said he even tried to take his own life, first trying to slit his wrists before then taking pills.
“That didn’t work either. I just threw up and then I just didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I was so scared… I just left.”
From the tragic scene to a life on the run
Less than 12 hours after the murder, and before anyone knew or even suspected anything had happened to Alyssa or Braydon, Worthen jumped into Alyssa’s 2007 white Honda Accord and made a run for it.
His first stop was Chicago, where he stayed for two days before he decided to head west. He planned to head to Seattle and just “be homeless.”
Worthen claims he stayed there for about a month begging for money, and by that point a nationwide manhunt for him was well underway. With no money for hotels or gas, he ditched the car and headed south down the West Coast.
“I hitchhiked from Seattle to Portland, from Portland to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Los Angeles,” he recalled.
Worthen says he stayed in LA for the next year, doing odd jobs and mowing lawns, fully aware that he was a wanted man. He said he was scared constantly thought he was being watched.
It turns out he was right. After 16 months of being on the run, U.S. Marshals tracked him down at a hotel in Burbank, and worthen believes a simple mistake he made led them straight to him.
“I was told that my uncle contacted the Marshals about me messaging him on Facebook, and the Marshals tracked the phone I had and found me,” he explained.
On October 5, 2020, the hunt was finally over. A bruised and bloodied Worthen was finally in handcuffs. Nine days later he was brought back to Camden and charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
Worthen said the return back to Arkansas is what scared him the most, though it was not the legal challenges that brought his anxiety.
“The fear of facing my family, and then Angela, Alyssa and Braydon’s family… Fear of facing my mom,” he explained. “I just didn’t know, cause I didn’t have any contact with them while I was out there.”
Months went by, and then out of nowhere, Worthen appeared in court and pleaded guilty to the murders. While some may say the move was simply a way to avoid the death penalty, Worthen claimed it was because he was looking for closure.
“I accepted it because I was honestly ready for all of this to be over with. As far as no more being in the media because of the trial, I won’t have to go to trial,” he said. “I wanted it to be over with for myself and for everyone involved… you know Alyssa and Braydon’s family and my family. I just wanted it to be done. I wanted everybody to have some kind of closure.”
On November 1, the Department of Corrections transferred Worthen from the Ouachita County Jail to an intake unit in Malvern, where he could remain for up to six months.
Once he’s evaluated and classified as an inmate serving a life sentence, he will then be transferred to a maximum-security unit, where he will remain for the rest of his life, with no chance of parole.
As for Angela, she plans on taking on a new challenge as a way to remember and honor Alyssa and Braydon.
She wants to become an advocate for women who are victims of domestic violence and help them see the red flags before it’s too late. She also said she would love to one day build a safe home where women and children can go so they can feel safe.