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Watts Sentencing: Live Coverage and Analysis [Updated throughout the day]

Welcome to what appears right now to be the end of the legal road in the Chris Watts case. November 19 is just three months and six days after the tragic murders that rocked the small, thriving Colorado town of Frederick in mid-August.

Today the legal journey is expected to conclude with Judge Kopcow officially accepting Chris Watts’ guilty plea [on all charges]. In exchange Chris Watts will be spared the death penalty and sentenced to life behind bars without the possibility of parole.

Irrespective of the legal outcome in this case, an entire family has been completely destroyed through the events that played out sometime between August 12 and 13 this year. According to the District Attorney, they have – and are satisfied with – a “partial motive” to this crime. This “partial motive” will be revealed in court today by Michael Rourke.

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There’s more to it than this, of course. On November 16 the Greeley Tribune spelled some of the shenanigans out:

1. Chris Watts’ parents do not want him to accept the plea deal and have claimed they’ve been denied access to their son, and that the plea deal was/is coerced. If that’s true, the plea deal is invalid. The District Attorney has not responded to these allegations, but the Rzuceks have through an anonymous legal representative.

2. According to the Tribune:

…on Monday [November 12], the court received an email from a “K Almand,” an assumed representative for Cindy and Ronnie Watts. In the letter to Judge Kopcow, Almand claims the Colorado Public Defenders Office, which is defending Watts, has denied Cindy and Ronnie access to their son.

Cindy, Ronnie and an unnamed sister finally gained access to Watts for 30 minutes each the night before the sentencing hearing, Almand claims. Cindy asked her son if a plea deal is what he wanted.

“Do not ask him that or we will shut this (expletive) down now,” said an unnamed attorney before Watts could respond, according to Almand’s letter.

Almand said that type of “bullying” has been common in the Watts family’s dealings with the public defender’s office.

“It is the opinion of Mr. Watts’ family that he has been coerced, has been denied his constitutional rights and more — all in an attempt to quickly close this case,” Almand wrote. “They want to have a new attorney speak to Chris, on their behalf, to determine if this is a true confession or one that is based on inhumane treatment at the hands of the Public Defenders Office of Weld County.”

Almand closed the letter by saying Cindy Watts wanted to speak to Judge Kopcow about her son’s case and possible mistreatment. Kopcow issued an order saying he was barred from having any conversations about the case outside of the courtroom.

3. The autopsy reports regarding the remains of Shan’ann Watts [34], Bella Watts [4] and Celeste Watts [3] have not been released prior to sentencing. These reports, completed on October 2will be released after sentencing according to the District Attorney. This release of the autopsy reports will likely neutralize a civil hearing on the matter that was originally scheduled for December 21. The District Attorney’s original position on the autopsy reports was unusual in that it was claimed their release “could taint witnesses, make it difficult to seat an impartial jury and the victim’s cause of death would be critical evidence at trial”. If Rourke felt the autopsy evidence was so sensitive, then why did the defense feel they had no case to plead? Why did they make/accept the plea deal?

4. A raft of publications including the Tribune claimed in a court motion on October 12th that the withholding of the autopsy reports from public scrutiny could “cause substantial injury to the public interest.”



Welcome to a bitterly cold day in Greeley, Colorado. Minimum temperatures today were  17°F [-9°C] at 06:00 and may climb to a crisp 46 °F [7°C]  by the time the press conference is scheduled at 13:00.

The day will start mostly sunny in the early morning, and remain bright and sunny throughout, a typical early winter’s day in Colorado with a slight breeze blowing over the snow-covered prairie.

This is a big change from the weekend, which saw a big cold front roll in and dump snow and drizzle over the mountains and plains surrounding Denver. On Thanksgiving Thursday, another cold front is due to move in and change the regions weather, for the worse.

It’s 05:55, one hour until sunrise. Sunrise on August 13 was at 06:08, 42 minutes earlier than today. At this time three months ago Chris Watts was on the road, driving to CERVI 319.
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In ten minutes the sun will rise over the sandstone courthouse in Greeley, Colorado. Did you know Greeley was the setting for Pulitzer prize-winning historical fiction author James A. Michener’s Centennial. Michener studied in Greeley, and was so inspired by the setting and the history of the region, he used it as the backdrop for his bestseller, which was also made into a miniseries in the seventies.

The scene in front of the Weld County Centennial Center. Notice the spattering of snow in the background.

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In the morning news, two large fires are under investigation, including one that started as an explosion in Aurora. The Aurora fire included reports of a gas leak days prior, and conflicting reports on whether the gas company notified residents in advance via email.

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Other news making the headlines – the weather on the run up to Thanksgiving on Thursday, Black Friday sales, a shocking report on flu vaccinations, rezoning plans, a new name for a baseball team, a new Disney on ice show, getting water supply from a distant mine to Aurora, a new Marijuana store opening in Longmont [Longmont is a town close to Frederick where Chris Watts and Shan’ann worked at a Ford dealership], how to prevent peanut allergies, a surge in porch piracy, Denver-based Furniture Row Racing finishing second at the NASCAR championship, Christmas tree-cutting tips, a Christmas countdown, what teens want for Christmas according to a recent survey and lower gas prices.

Chris Dekker defense attorney: “I wasn’t surprised…I think Michael Rourke deserves quite a lot of praise. He was smart and brave, and acquiesced to their [the families’] desires.”

David Beller defense attorney: “The speed at which this deal was reached…is extremely unusual…”

Rachael Gibbs from Nags Head, North Carolina said she also spotted a rainbow this morning.

What to expect from today’s sentencing hearing in a nutshell:

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Megan Lopez has tweeted a couple of photos about the media presence outside court. Wish we could see more pictures of the court building. Just a wide shot to get a sense of the whole area.

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Meghan Lopez says she’ll be tweeting from outside court because no tweeting is allowed inside court. Seems excessive and extreme, doesn’t it?


So from beginning to end the sentencing hearing lasted less than 45 minutes. A total of about six people spoke, including Cindy Watts, a representative on behalf of Ronnie Watts, Frank Rzucek, Michael Rourke reading Frankie Rzucek’s statement, Sandi Rzucek, a brief 15 second statement by Chris Watts’ legal representative, and then a delineation of the evidence by the District Attorney, which lasted about ten minutes.

Throughout the proceedings Watts drummed his foot on the floor, and appeared to struggle to contain his emotions. He breathed heavily, but made no sound, and repeatedly curled his lip and bit it. At one point, while his father was speaking I believe, a single tear streamed down his cheek.

At the end, when Judge Kopcow asked him if he wished to say anything, Watts answered softly, “No sir.” His legal representative spoke briefly on his behalf, saying that he was “truly sorry”.

What was unreal was the mismatch between the crime the District Attorney and the Judge were describing, a vicious, calculated, monstrous act, and the demeanor of the defendant. Passive. Voiceless. Trying his best to be emotionless, as if a lack of emotion under these circumstances was some sort of virtue.

When he rose and walked out of the packed court, Watts looked down, not making eye contact with anyone. Not his mother. Not his father.

Welcome to a living hell.

Will Nichol Kessinger testify?


Press Conference [Updates coming soon]

Weld County District Attorney, Coroner, Cops Host 37-minute News Conference after Chris Watts Sentencing

Autopsy Reports

Shan’ann, Bella and Celeste Watts 25 Page Autopsy Report

true crime rocket science

Analysis of Monday’s Hearing 

There were a few things that were downright weird about the hearing. No actual witnesses testified, only family members, and although each statement was emotional and tugged at the heartstrings, it did precious little to advance the narrative of the Watts case.

Rourke did that himself in a ten-minute or so summary, in which he provided a few [very few] insights into the case. He mentioned Bella biting her tongue and fighting for her life, a tuft of her hair snagged on the side of the thief hatch, and scratch marks on her buttocks incurred when she was forced into the tank.

What was more interesting in the sentencing hearing wasn’t what was mentioned, but what was left out. Nothing about time of death whatsoever. No one close to the Watts family in Colorado testified for or against him. The Thayers didn’t appear to be in court, neither did Nickole Utoft or Nichol Kessinger.

In fact the families appeared to be ushered into court via a private entrance, and ushered out privately too. It was all conducted with seamless precision. The crowds roared afterwards, justice is served!

More: Chris Watts has been sentenced, it’s all over and justice is served – but does the DA’s motive wash?


  1. Hugh Schreiber

    Sooo glad you’re on the job today Nick. I’ll be staying tuned.

    • nickvdl

      Good to see you here Hugh.

  2. Cheryl

    Given the speed with which this horrendous and complex case appears to be resolving, today’s sentencing is assuming the aspect of a public hanging. Even Nichol Kessinger is supposed to make a statement–the virtuous Nichol Kessinger who had to have known she was having an affair with a very married man. Absent a trial, there is no opportunity to cross-examine a witness like this, leaving her free to spin her account of her brief time with Chris, and in doing so salvage her own and her employer’s, Anadarko’s, reputations. Prior to the sentencing, the public has had no access to the autopsy results, which will be released 24 hours after today’s event. In the meantime, on-line sleuths, who claim to have reliable sources close to the case, have shared parts of the results via a podcast, which they use to generate further speculation, and I emphasize speculation. I find this all very disturbing and believe that the Watts tragedy is being compounded by yet another.

  3. Pauline

    It likely happened exactly as you said it did Nick. It was premeditated, and cold. NO defensive wounds on her body. Murder Sesh source was wrong. Only bruising on right side of her neck and finger printing from strangulation. 2. Girls were smothered. Bella bit tongue multiple times and likely fought. Maybe the scratch on Watts neck was from Bella? 3. He was seen going in and out of his house 3 times, one for each body. 4. He texted a co-worker the night before that he would take care of the particular site where he did the body dump. 5. It was an 8″ hatch opening, not 13″ and he did squeeze them down. Bells had scratches on left side of leg as she was pushed down. Less oil in that tank due to splashing and likely overspill. 6. Tuft of blonde hair around opening of other tank – the one CeCe was shoved down. 7. Sha’nann texted him self help books and sent him books on marriage counseling, etc., one book was found in his trash can. 8. He texted his girlfriend all hours of day and night, while Sha’nann was sending him self help books he went on dates with the girlfriend to car museums and the sand dunes. He’s a coward. And he’ll spend the rest of his life in jail. He hung his head low in court and had nothing to say for himself. He cried a few times, and his leg was moving up and down under the table.

    • Amanda G

      Yet you called his book stating all of this pure fiction, and gave it a one star review, marring its future. Why are you here?

  4. Pauline

    And one more cold act – he called the girls school to tell them his children would no longer be enrolled in school. When did he do that? Friday? Monday? Very very cold. His phone messages likely yielded a lot of gold.

  5. Kaye

    What a hollow, hollow feeling this sentencing hearing gave me. It appears that he did tell Shan’ann he wanted out and she did her best to try and work it out, sending the relationship self- help books, which he threw out, etc. It seems like he just got fed up with her trying to fix it and came to his awful solution. He did not want it to be “difficult” it seems like; why oh why couldn’t he just have called while they were in NC and said I’m moving out, see you in divorce court? I understand it would have cost a ton of money but how could smothering your own kids be easier?

    • nickvdl

      I also had a hollow feeling.

  6. Sabine

    In my opinion the DA should have sought the death penalty. For the murder of the children alone. The victims need to have a voice, if a jury at trial then decides to be merciful and give him what he has got now, at least as the DA and society at large you have set a statement. Berating the victim’s family when they are down emotionally to accept life without parole instead of going for the death penalty is a shame. I do trust that a jury would have judged without underlying different motives, political or otherwise.

  7. Diana

    “Hollow”. Great description for how I feel as well. So many unanswered questions. Even Prosecutor Rourke admitted in a round-a-bout way that these murders occurred for more reasons than the girlfriend when he stated he would provide a “partial” motive. Despite his horrible actions, Chris did show shame by his demeanor in court, looking down, unable to even look at his mom or dad. I know many will say Chris is only sorry he got caught, but again, his demeanor also appeared to show a measure of remorse imo. I truly don’t put the blame for what happened on anyone else but Chris. Shan’ann apparently wanted to save the marriage, he did not, but her murder isn’t her fault. Maybe she had her own selfish reasons for wanting to stay in the marriage, but that’s still no reason to kill her. I don’t hold Nichol the gf responsible for any of Chris’s acts either, if not her, there would’ve likely been another/different mistress. My view on her is that she’s not the one who promised Shan’ann to honor Shan’ann’s marriage vows, Chris did.

    I’ve always been a big fan of retired FBI Agent/Author John Douglas. He helped pioneer profiling perpetrators, mostly serial killers. He and his colleagues interviewed incarcerated serial killers and compiled all their info in a data base. There’s been a lot learned from that info. And this is why I hope Chris will talk someday, so we can learn from these horrific murders. In the meantime, we have your books and blogs to read Nick. I’m still reading Book 3 on this case. I’m trying to be more insightful about these crimes, but I’m not there yet, still learning from your writings.

  8. Nick

    Well having an open mind is a valuable thing.

    I agree there was some contrition. I even spotted a tear rolling down his cheek.

    I hope in time I can adjust your thinking on John Douglas. According to my research and investigation he was wrong on JonBenet Ramsey, West Memphis 3 and Amanda Knox. That’s quite a lot to get completely wrong.

  9. Shannon

    I feel sad.
    Wonder if this, is the end.

  10. Diana

    In regards to John Douglas Nick – you of all people should know it’s all in the wording lol! Notice I didn’t toot Douglas’s horn for his profiling skills. I said there’s “been a lot learned” from the info he gathered. Too many times in the past LE has put too much weight into those profiles and it’s my understanding they’re trying to get away from that, that’s why I worded my comment the way I did. But I still believe lots of valuable information was gleaned from all those interviews with perpetrators. I do believe all that data has been helpful in conjunction with the psychological aspect of the criminal mind to assist in the solving and prevention of certain crimes. I know some people think an FBI profile is foolproof, but I know it’s far from it. Just saying there is some valuable information gathered from serial killers that can, and have, helped shed light on certain behaviors. The best piece I read by Douglas was actually about trace evidence, not profiling by the way, I hadn’t seen any of his profiling since before the JonBenet case. I didn’t even know he profiled her case, would be curious to know if you mention that in your books on her case?

    • nickvdl

      I remember he profiled one particular case and “predicted” the type and color of the car the perpetrator was driving. LE thought he was a magician. If I told you the color of the socks Watts had in his closet, would that make me Sherlock Holmes, or did I get the information through the back door somehow? And who cares about the color of the car, it says absolutely nothing about the crime or why it was committed.

      But you do make a good point in the general sense. Yes, studying criminals closely does lead to an understanding of criminal psychology. There are recognizable patterns in their behavior and thus in their psychologies. This is why there is merit in true crime writing about so many cases and applying what I call Criminal Intertextuality – how cases interrelate to one another. They do interrelate but it’s also important to see where they don’t.

  11. Diana

    I know which case you’re referencing Nick – the one where Douglas actually predicted the kind and color of car that a particular killer drove. Not really important, but it was about a man who murdered a young woman in her basement by drowning her in a bucket of water. But I get what you’re saying – Douglas really hit pay dirt with that perps profile and after that, his profiling became the gold standard to the detriment of some cases. I agree with you.

    • nickvdl

      That’s the one. Also a very tragic murder.

  12. Golden Bubble

    I’ve studied quite a few cases of a man killing his wife and/or family and frequently the precipitating event is that he’s on the verge of being “exposed” for a lie or parallel life (usually with a mistress/other women or deeply in debt). Examples are Mark Hacking, Christian Longo, Matt Baker, Harold Henthorn, Scott Peterson, John Entwhistle…I could go on. I agree that the gender reveal is the event that made Chris believe that death of the baby was the solution. And when poisoning didn’t cause a miscarriage he wnt to plan B. It irks me that too many people jump to the “diabolical possession” motive because they just can’t handle the truth. One of your videos covers shame as a motive for Chris Watts and I see that as a common thread as well. Stephen Grant strangled his wife because she humiliated him by treating him like a servant. Chris Watts seems like there are many themes to this crime: exposure, shame, lust, and as you previously stated, a desire to be understood by someone. The introvert component was huge in this instance. I am a confident introvert and my husband is a shy extrovert (yep, it happens) and we’ve had many conflicts over the clash of temperaments. I have felt severely misjudged by him (if I’m quiet he thinks I’m angry) and often don’t feel free to express myself. I get why this was a “thing” for Chris.

    Question: why did he kill Bella and Cece? Kessinger seemed to accept them. Was it financial?

    • Ralph Oscar

      “why did he kill Bella and Cece? Kessinger seemed to accept them. Was it financial?”

      We can approach this from several different angles. Both girls were *sickly*, so they represented an unending economic burden, financially speaking. Chris was simply not equipped to be a single parent – he’d have to hire help (which he could not afford) since his schedule didn’t permit him to get them off to daycare and be there when they got back. NK certainly had not invited him and the children to move in with her, so that she could help with the child care!

      Also, the girls were terribly attached to their mother; the scenario of how they would adjust to her being gone was a potential minefield. What Shan’Ann’s family (I think) reported was that, after the month+ apart, when Chris came to NC for a week, it was apparent that the children were annoying him, getting on his nerves, which leads us to the third point:

      In the months leading up to the murders, the girls had started talking to their father in the same contemptuous, put-down terms their mother used for him. He describes the girls “throwing chicken nuggets” at him (who DOES that??) and there was the “entertainment” their mother devised that involved the girls smashing Chris in the face with pies. He was the fool, the buffoon, the dunce everyone in the family pointed and laughed at – used, taken advantage of, dismissed. And it was starting to become a dominating trend – I can certainly see how Chris would start to put Shan’Ann and the girls into the same category.

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