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.
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 , Bella Watts  and Celeste Watts  have not been released prior to sentencing. These reports, completed on October 2, will 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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]
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!
Chris Watts has maintained from the start that he had nothing to do with the deaths of his daughters. Shan’ann killed them, he claimed in his confession. Even to his parents he apparently maintained this psychological distance, telling them “after what she did” there was no way he was going to bury the three of them together.
If Chris Watts killed and dismembered – or chemically processed – the remains of his children, then we can see how this case going to court could play out very badly for him. The dismemberment theory isn’t wild conjecture by any means; we’ve just seen the same scene [a missing person’s case become a premeditated murder case with missing dismembered remains] playing out in international media while the Watts case was in legal limbo.
Taking on the defense perspective [I realize many are allergic to even hypothesizing this, but at TCRS we explore all possibilities], if Watts is able to win some credit with a potential jury it may be through portraying Shan’ann as an obsessive, compulsive, controlling, abusive partner.
So he might win some sympathy with a jury. On the other hand, if he liquidated his own children it’s difficult to see there being a stitch of compassion for him, especially given the fact that he murdered his wife while she was pregnant as well.
Anything can happen at trial, of course. The Casey Anthony case proved that a slam-dunk case can be undone with a rigorous defense, especially if and when the parents come to the party. The Anthony’s managed to create “doubt” on two important aspects at trial that otherwise seemed certain. Remember the “odor of death” in the car becoming the odor of pizza? Remember the repeated Google searches for Chloroform that Cindy Anthony said she performed [even though she was at work at the time]? It was enough to create doubt in the jury’s mind, if no one else’s.
The two big difference between the Watts case and the Casey Anthony case are:
We assume that the four days of recovery simply involved the time it took to drain the almost full tanks, but I believe that’s a mistake. Theoretically, if the bodies had been dumped intact from above through the thief hatch, they could have been fished out just as easily.
Again, if the oil tanks were almost full, and the bodies were suspended whole inside, all one needed to do was stir the tanks slightly, or reach in with a noose, rope or lasso wrapped in plastic to prevent fiber contamination [CERVI 319 is situated on a cattle ranch] or a blunt curved object like a Bo Peep staff. And that’s if bodies don’t float naturally to the surface. Would they in the case of crude oil is the key question?
And if cadavers do float, wouldn’t Watts have wanted to prevent that from happening? If it was a premeditated murder, wouldn’t part of the thinking have involved preventing the bodies from becoming easily visible to a passing glance inside the tanks through the opened thief hatch?
Were they intact but anchored?
In any event, it seems the District Attorney has withheld the autopsy reports for two reasons. One, to allow the hysteria around the case to die down. And two, to use it as a bargaining chip [potentially] with the defendant. To hold the reports in his hand, to tell him “we know exactly what you did to your children” and to offer him the opportunity to go to prison quietly, without disgracing himself or his family any further at a very public trial.
Thus far Chris Watts’ defense has sat back and allowed the prosecutors to do all the work in terms of holding back the media [who have been baying of the autopsy reports]. Well, today that’s changed.
Chris Watts defense submitted a three page civil motion requesting that disclosure of the autopsy reports be denied to the media and the public. There are 15 bullets spread across those three pages, much of it filled with legal jargon.
But there are some excerpts of the report [full report here] that are quite revealing.
CHRISTOPHER WATTS, through his attorneys, hereby moves this Honorable Court to hold a hearing on the government’s proffered reason for wanting to deny disclosure of the autopsies in this matter.
So the issue here isn’t so much the autopsy reports, or wanting to deny disclosure, but the defense wanting to know the reason the state has given to deny disclosure.
As grounds for this motion, Mr. Watts states:
2. Out of an abundance of caution…Mr. Watts respectfully moves this court to hold a hearing on whether the release of the autopsies “could result in tainting witnesses that have not yet been interviewed” as the government claimed in its Motion [L] at paragraph 3.
3. As stated in Mr. Watts’ notice (D-039), the government’s alternative claim that the results of the autopsies will taint potential jurors is groundless – the results will almost assuredly be revealed in court proceedings well in advance of trial.
4. However, counsel for Mr. Watts remains concerned about the government’s spurious claims related to tainting witnesses who have yet to be interviewed. Counsel remains specifically concerned that the government possesses information that the defense does not have.
What this reveals is that the defense wants to know which witnesses the state prosecutor has or has yet to interview. Interesting legal arm twist here.
5. It is not clear if the government’s assertion means that it has knowledge that witnesses may change their testimony once they see the coroner’s opinion. It is not clear which witnesses the government knows about who have not been interviewed that may have that reaction to the opinion of the coroner. It is not clear what information the government possesses that would lead them to that conclusion. Perhaps more importantly, it is now clear that no party in the civil case has an interest in developing the record about this specious claim. According to the petition filed in
18CV30907, the coroner (whose office is ostensibly independent from the district attorney’s) “concurs with the District Attorney’s reasoning” and has “no reason to doubt [the] District Attorney . . . .” 18CV30907, VERIFIED PETITION IN RE: THE REQUEST OF THE GREELEY TRIBUNE FOR CERTAIN RECORDS PURSUANT TO THE
COLORADO OPEN RECORDS ACT, C.R.S. §§ 24-72-201, ET. SEQ., at ¶¶ 13, 14.
Counsel for Mr. Watts cannot share the coroner’s apparent confidence. The coroner’s naked deference to the government has therefore made clear that he has no interest in challenging the government’s judgement; consequently, he has no interest in investigating and ferreting out the validity of its claim. Mr. Watts does.
It’s interesting how the defense are shooting warning shots over the bow, basically alleging that the coroner is in cahoots with the district attorney’s office. The tone of the motion also indicates the tone of Chris Watts’ defense – it’s defiant!
Read the rest here [scroll down to the end].
It’s extraordinary isn’t it? Weld County District Court Judge Marcelo Kopcow denied Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke’s motion to seal autopsy reports in the Christopher Watts triple murder case. In plain language, the Weld County District Court is arguing with the Weld County District Attorney.
Irrespective, it’s all up to the Weld County Coroner – Carl Blesch – to decide what happens to those reports. If Blesch decides not to intervene, theoretically the reports could be released as-is by as early as Monday, October 15th, just over two months after the murders. But that’s unlikely. More likely Blesch will file a response to the request based on the processes prescribed by Colorado Open Records Act [CORA]. According to the Greeley Tribune:
Blesch basically has two options: take legal action or release the reports. Roberts said CORA allows a three-work-day period for a response to a request.
If Blesch files a response through the courts, this will almost certainly be either to refuse to release the reports, or to release a limited/redacted version. But we already know what Blesch plans to do.
In an email to The Tribune after Rourke’s motion, Blesch said he agreed with the motion to seal the reports in an effort to ensure the integrity of the ongoing investigation and a fair trial for the defendant.
Blesch’s basically saying the autopsy reports are being withheld to protect Chris Watts. Really?
Whatever is really going on here, the contents of those reports and findings as they relate to the Watts case are likely to be extremely shocking.
The Weld County District Court has denied the prosecution’s request to seal the autopsy reports for Shanann Watts and her children, who were killed in August, siding with the argument presented by a group of media advocacy associations.
In a court document filed Friday, the court denied Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke’s request to seal the autopsies of 34-year-old Shanann Watts, and two children, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, saying it lacked “subject matter jurisdiction” on the issue. – Times.Call
Now we await the next move from the Weld County Coroner’s Office. Will they file a separate action in court to keep the autopsies sealed?
When the Columbine shooting happened in Colorado, just 41 miles due south of the Watts home in Frederick, it was the worst high school shooting in U.S. history. Although there were 15 deaths [including the two perpetrators] and 21 non-fatal gunshot injuries, the shooting was later defined as a botched and badly implemented terrorist bombing.
None of the bombs rigged with detonators went off. As bad as it was, the Columbine massacre was a lot less than it was intended to be. Harris and Klebold had intended their attack on their high school to rival the Oklahoma City Bombing which killed approximately 169 Americans.
Because of the poor execution of the crime, there was initial speculation that the shootings weren’t premeditated, or if they were, that little initial planning was involved. In fact during the year prior to the attack, Harris and Klebold both kept journals and compiled a series of video messages with statements of intent, including 30 minutes before the attack on April 20, 1999.
The same speculation dogs the Watts case currently – that because his crime was poorly executed, Watts must have “just snapped”.
On April 20th, 2004, five years to the day after Columbine, Slate published an analysis with a promising blurb:
At last we know why the Columbine killers did it.
Five years ago today, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered their classmates and teachers at Columbine High School. Most Americans have reached one of two wrong conclusions about why they did it. The first conclusion is that the pair of supposed “Trench Coat Mafia outcasts” were taking revenge against the bullies who had made school miserable for them. The second conclusion is that the massacre was inexplicable: We can never understand what drove them to such horrific violence.
Thanks to the genius of the FBI and their expert psychologists, the true motive for the massacre was revealed.
That’s an incredible assessment – that two kids harbored no resentment of their peers – but wanted to kill them in an unusually extreme and colossal manner simply to make a statement. It wasn’t personal, the FBI said, and I guess when they committed suicide afterwards, that wasn’t personal either. It shows just how clueless the FBI and law enforcement can be when it comes to interiority.
10 years after Columbine the motive [at least as far as the mainstream media were concerned], still remained unclear. This was despite the extensive notes and statements of intent left behind and communicated by the killers. It was also in spite of the FBI’s expert assessment that the kids were just trying to make a big statement, nothing more.
Almost 20 years later the rationale behind what happened at Columbine remains a matter of controversy. Bullying has been alternately discounted and counted as an important factor. Social climate has been discounted and counted as an important factor. Ditto Goth subculture, video games, antidepressants, teenage internet use, movies like Natural Born Killers and music. Craziest of all, almost two decades after the massacre, no one seems to agree on the most basic question of all: were the killers outcasts or not?
In Slaughter, I profiled 8 mass shooters, and along the way examined the Columbine case. The test in every massacre is the same. Where there’s an extreme amount of violence [sadism] it’s contingent on an imputed sense of insignificance [humiliation]. Where you find a massacre, you will always – without exception – find social death plaguing the shooter.
The same applies to true crime, but the psychology is more nuanced and subtle where a single person extinguishes the life of one other individual.
In the Columbine case, the FBI succeeded in seeing an intention to make the biggest and loudest possible statement. But they failed dismally in linking why they felt the need to do this as strongly as they did.
Much of these basic issues also apply to the Chris Watts case. But if these simple questions around why or what caused young men to act out the way they did weren’t answered then, what chance is there the same simple questions will be answered in the Watts case?
When criminal cases are placed under the microscope in the glare the media and the all-seeing-eyes of America’s social media, it seems inevitable that the truth will eventually emerge, doesn’t it?
But the truth hasn’t emerged in the Columbine case.
It hasn’t emerged in the JonBenet Ramsey case.
In the Aurora shooting, which played out in 2012 [the same year the Watts family moved to Frederick] that shooter [James Holmes] was sentenced to 3 318 years in prison, but the jury felt Holmes didn’t deserve the death penalty.
At the time, the Aurora Cinema attack had the largest number of casualties in one shooting in modern U.S. history. That attack was blamed on mental illness. A huge coup for his defense during trial was thanks to Holmes’ diary [which contained meticulous calculations of the attack] being protected by physician–patient privilege. The judge ruled it inadmissible because Holmes later mailed it to his psychiatrist.
When one looks at Frederick, Columbine and Aurora on a map, it appears as an upside-down Y. And right now, the record for figuring out the Y is pretty upside down.
On October 6th, 2018, the Greeley Tribune noted of the Watts case:
In the motion filed Thursday, Steve Zansberg — a First Amendment attorney…who represents The Tribune and its media partners — argued the Weld County Coroner’s Office…is the official custodian of the autopsy reports because they were “made, maintained or kept” by that office.
In his 22 years representing Zansberg said he can remember only one instance, the Columbine High School massacre, in which a judge ruled the release of autopsy reports would adversely affect the public.
[The Greeley Tribune] fundamentally believe in a democratic society that the records detailing actions undertaken by officials who serve that society must be public. In the absence of such transparency, we cease to live in an open society. The last time a Colorado judge ruled the release of autopsy reports would adversely affect the public was the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, 19 years ago.
Is the Watts case really the worst incident in Colorado since Columbine, even worse than the Aurora shootings?
Will the outcome of this case – in terms of why – be better than those that have come before?