True Crime Analysis, Breakthroughs, Insights & Discussions Hosted by Bestselling Author Nick van der Leek

Tag: coerced

Was the plea deal coerced? The biggest revelation from FAMILY MAN, FAMILY MURDERER

The kindgarten-level of true crime reporting and true crime analysis in Family Man, Family Murder – which aired on Investigation Discovery on Sunday night [June 2nd, 2019]  – was shocking.

This is a channel that specializes in true crime, so they do know how to do better.  It’s not a case of laziness or recklessness. The episode is meant to be exactly as it is.

Jenn H. left an excellent comment on the review post comparing the speed at which the prosecution put everything in a box and tied it with a neat bow to the documentary doing the same thing.

The documentary is narrated entirely from a prosecutorial perspective. We literally see two prosecutors doing all the heavy lifting and not really anyone else. There are zero witnesses, and virtually nothing new in the episode. No parents are interviewed, nor any of the public defenders. Virtually no new faces, besides those of a few reporters, appear. No prison guards, no friends of Watts or Shan’ann, no co-workers. From beginning to end the word ANADARKO is left out, though Thrive and Le-Vel are mentioned once or twice. It’s really an incredible achievement.

But before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, let’s have a look at something that may – may – be revelatory. It’s this:

It appears to be an email written to Steve Wrenn regarding the most crucial aspect of this case – the plea deal. That the prosecutors would simply hand this snippet of information over is interesting. Perhaps they don’t want to be caught with their pants down, and perhaps like the episode itself [coming out in early June] it’s another attempt to pop the balloon that is the Watts case, and control – that is, suppress – the narrative.

This case had all the ingredients to become the most high-profile trial in America’s true crime history [and still does]. While that’s unlikely now, if this email is genuine and not simply staged along with the other dramatizations [and it might be] then we can see just how quickly the screws were tightened on the Watts case.

The email is dated August 26th, 2018 at 11:58. The email reads:

To: Steve Wrenn

Subject: Chris Watts

Dear Detective Wrenn

The defendant, Christopher Watts, is willing to agree to waive his right to be indicted and to plead guilty to all charges of first degree murder charges if our office is willing to remove the possibility of the death penalty.


John Walsch

To be honest I thought the “our” in “our office” was a typo. Shouldn’t it have been “your” office. Of course the public defender and the public prosecutor’s office is theoretically the same legal apparatus. It’s just a little strange, isn’t it?. Imagine Jodi Arias’ lawyer or Casey Anthony’s lawyer contacting the prosecutor and making suggestions for what “our office” might be willing to do?

Since the interview with Wrenn [detective Wrenn?] is held within his office, and the email seems to be pointed out on a laptop or iPad, it’s implied that Wrenn is simply pointing it out.

Well, why not be more explicit about it?

Many pundits, TCRS included, felt the Watts case was rushed even when the case was basically over by November 19th, barely three months after the incident. But according to this email, the case was over within two weeks.

Had the news of the plea deal been released then, there would have been overwhelming outrage. Justifiably. Wasn’t that why it’s been staged the way it has, to allow the public to calm down and the outrage over the crime to blow over? A year later, has it blown over?

Even the discovery documents were handed over very quickly after the sentencing, and the folks associated with Watts washed their hands off the case. They weren’t going to talk about it again, it was over and done with.  But then a few niggly bits emerged in that massive tranche of mostly meaningless discovery. Like this:

When the media wanted to verify the date of Kessinger’s search – was it really September 2017 – the district attorney didn’t really want to talk about it. He’d moved on. The case was over as far as he was concerned.

NOVEMBER 28, 2018:

CrimeOnline reached records supervisor Amanda Purcell on Thursday after repeated inquiries made to multiple Colorado law enforcement agencies to confirm the accuracy of an entry in the Phone Data Review included in the discovery documents connected to the Chris Watts murder case, released by the Weld County District Attorney’s office late last month.

Asked if the entry in the Phone Data Review showing that Kessinger, who was involved in an affair with Chris Watts when he murdered his wife Shanann Watts and two young daughters, showing that Kessinger performed an internet search for “Shanann Watts” on her cell phone on September 1, 2017, was typographically correct, Purcell said it was a typo in the report.

Purcell was not able to provide additional clarification about another section of the phone data review that indicates Kessinger searched for Chris and/or Shanann Watts prior to beginning her relationship with Chris Watts in the spring of 2018, and referred our inquiry to the Weld County District Attorney’s office. CrimeOnline will provide further updates when more information is available.

DECEMBER 10, 2018

As the discovery documents and audio of a police interview with Kessinger show, the 30-year-old woman who reportedly met Watts at Anadarko Petroluem, where they both worked at the time, was aware Watts was married but believed he and his wife were headed for certain divorce. She told investigators she was unaware Shanann Watts was pregnant before the missing persons case made the news, and that she didn’t know Shanann’s name until a while after she became involved with Chris Watts.

The discovery documents released by the Weld County District Attorney’s office in late November include reports that indicate Kessinger may have been aware of Chris and/or Shanann Watts prior to when she is believed to have met Chris Watts at work.

CrimeOnline made repeated inquiries with the Weld County District Attorney’s office, the Greeley Police Department, and the Frederick Police Department for clarification about multiple entries in the “Phone Data Review,” included in the discovery documents, which show that Kessinger searched for Shanann Watts and Christopher Watts in 2017.

Following a series of email exchanges and phone calls with the Weld County District Attorney’s office regarding the reports, CrimeOnline spoke by phone to Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke on Monday. Rourke said that the reports reflect what was shown in the forensic analysis of Nichol Kessinger’s phone.

“The dates to which you are referring — in 2017 where it appears she Googled or otherwise searched Shannan — was data that came off her phone,” Rourke said.

“It’s not a typographical error in the report. [The detectives] are reporting what was contained in the data from her phone. I don’t know the answer to the question of why or how those dates ended up in her phone.”

Asked if the District Attorney’s office questioned or planned to question Kessinger about data suggesting she was aware of Chris and Shanann Watts for up to a year before the murders, Rourke said that Chris Watts’ guilty plea precluded any need to further probe the results of the forensic analysis of Kessinger’s phone.

Why is Kessinger’s first Google Search for “Shanann Watts” becoming a Shifting Goalpost? [UPDATED]

But now they’re back. And what they’re talking about is everything we already know, back to front.

The other aspect to note is if the date is right, and the plea deal was offered on August 26th, consider how long the media and public were strung along. The plea deal was only acknowledged in a surprise announcement on November 6th.

And Watts’ parents at the time complained that the deal was coerced, and that they didn’t have access to their son to talk him out of it.

Now, of course, several months later when it’s all done and dusted, Watts has communicated his intention to appeal his conviction. TCRS predicted this outcome way back in November, less than a week after the “shock announcement” of the plea deal.

Chris Watts Plea Deal – things aren’t what they seem!

Chris Watts Will Change his Mind about Pleading Guilty

So what are we really talking about? For starters, an argument could be made that the First Confession was coerced, in the sense that Watts was tricked [and to some extent placed under duress] into making admissions. Personally I have no problem with that, prosecutors have to play certain cards, and use card tricks, with slippery, tricksy criminals.

But a defense lawyer would have a lot to work with here. Others with less to work with – like Amanda Knox – have had a lot of success arguing coercion. Bear in mind at the time this email was apparently written, Watts had only admitted on tape to murdering his wife. So where did the enthusiasm arise to admit guilt on all charges?

What changed in 12 days?

Who was really pushing for a plea deal?

Who was really pulling the strings?

5 Questions to Speculate Over – True Crime Guru Badge [#5]

Normally we’re less interested in opinions than in facts at TCRS.


The Chris Watts case isn’t a normal case.

There is a place for speculation in true crime, but speculation needs to be informed and anchored in the patterns, personalities and dynamics of a particular case to be meaningful or worthwhile. Typically, speculation needs to be limited.

In a criminal trial, a prosecutor can rap the knuckles of his opposition counsel [or witnesses] by objecting to “speculation”, ditto defense counsel.  For the most part we try to run the same sort of tight ship in true crime. What can be proven? What does the evidence say? What do we know for a fact? Where does it take us?

As a true crime narrator, I try to weigh any speculation down with a host of references, facts and underlying data. Once anchored, we can set the ship adrift and see which way the tide draws it.

The Watts case is an enigma because despite having a tsunami of information, we really don’t seem to have anything concrete – about anything.

The five questions below are meant to check your knowledge, insight and understanding in this case. If you’re able to answer any of these questions instantly, chances are you’ve still not developed the capacity to really think critically and constructively about this case. Good true crime makes us better thinkers, and ultimately, better people.

Incidentally, there are no right or wrong answers to these 5 questions, just varying degrees of being better, or closer to reality [whatever that might be]. So, without further ado, put on your thinking caps and lets get started:

1. Do you think the Rzuceks saw the autopsies? Motivate your answer.

2. Do you think the Watts family saw the autopsies? Motivate your answer.

3. Are the emails between Kessinger and Watts in the Discovery Documents? If so, where?

4. Why did Watts take the plea deal, if what he was getting [life in prison with no parole] was no different than what he would have gotten anyway? Motivate your answer.

5. Were the resources used in this case commensurate to the crime committed? Motivate your answer.

The best responses will be acknowledged, and used in a guest post.

If Chris Watts WAS coerced, he should rescind the plea deal – but will he?

What is it with these families and chewing gum? Frank Rzucek chewed gum while addressing a press conference in Greeley, following Chris Watts’ second appearance in court. During her FaceTime interview with Fox31’s Keagan Harsha, Cindy Watts is also chewing gum while telling Harsha how much she loves her son “no matter what”.

Do these people realize how casual they look and sound when this is a triple murder involving their own children and grandchildren?

At 1:22 in the clip below, Cindy Watts says, “Yes, I-I-I wanna talk to him, we haven’t been able to talk to him…” If it’s true that Watts’ parents haven’t been allowed to talk to their son, then that and the ongoing solitary confinement could be seen as a form of duress, a legal circumstance that speaks to the “voluntariness” of a legal settlement.

In order for a legal document to be valid, all parties must enter into it freely. If there is coercion, or allegations of coercion, these can cast a serious legal shadow over the legality of a case. Any agreement that is coerced is null and void.

We’ve seen this play out over and over again in true crime, for example in the Amanda Knox case where she said she was coerced into making statements, and by Brendan Dassey, who claimed while he wasn’t physically coerced or threatened, he was tricked into doing so.

To date Cindy Watts has been quoted by the Denver Post, The Daily Beast and the Times-Call saying: “I know he confessed, but he was railroaded into it.” It’s fascinating that the District Attorney hasn’t responded directly to these allegations thus far. Playing for time?

The Denver Post has provided some legal analysis on this point:

Denver attorney H. Michael Steinberg said that if Christopher Watts wishes to withdraw his guilty plea, it is possible the judge would consider that before his sentencing, which is scheduled for Monday. But he would have to offer a better explanation than just the fact that he changed his mind. One possibly valid reason would be that Christopher Watts has not received a psychological evaluation, Steinberg said.

“That would be a significant issue. This case is so high profile the judge may want to make sure everything was done appropriately,” Steinberg said.

Indeed. The case simply needs to follow due process. If in retrospect that’s found not to be the case, and if Watts appeals, he could argue he was placed under duress, was depressed or in despair and wasn’t able – or given the opportunity – to make a properly informed decision.

If the plea deal is an effort to avoid a court case but ends up precipitating one, then the plea deal makes no sense, does it? Then a criminal trial is the logical legal end result to resolve this  very high-profile and very serious crime.

According to the Times-Call:

Cynthia Watts said she and her husband repeatedly tried to speak with their son alone, but his attorneys wouldn’t let them. On one occasion, when she said, “Chris, you did not do this. Don’t confess,” she said her son’s attorneys ended the conversation immediately. “They stonewalled him. My son deserved to be defended,” Cynthia Watts said.

She said her son’s attorneys told her, “We just want to save his life.” But Cynthia Watts said her son deserves much more than that. “This is outrageous to me.” Cynthia Watts described her son as someone who never lost his temper and always did what his wife asked of him, “running, not walking.”

“How does he go from a decent person to a killer?” she asked. “If he won’t fight for his daggone self, I will.”

On the other hand, if Chris Watts maintains he was treated fairly, was of sound mind, and his decision to plea is entirely voluntary, then the plea and the sentence stands.


Ronnie and Cindy Watts believe Chris Watts didn’t kill Bella and Celeste, say Shan’ann “changed” him, was abusive and isolated him from his family

A trial means the whole truth comes out, is put under the light. It’s not just the story of the defendant, it also allows the victim’s story to be told. More than anything, it gives the community an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, potentially valuable and meaningful lessons.

Fullscreen capture 20181110 182112

Now, with the sentencing less than a week away, we’re starting to learn that there’s more to the Watts story than we’ve been told. Who Shan’ann really was is the focus now, based on these admissions by Chris Watts’ parents. But are they telling the truth about Shan’ann, or they doing whatever they can to save their 33-year-old son from a desperate fate – life in prison without parole.


According to his parents believe he killed Shan’ann, but not his daughters:

“He did kill her, but the kids, no. It’s very difficult, very difficult. I can’t imagine my son doing that. He couldn’t have done that,” Watts said. Cindy Watts spoke from her home in North Carolina. She says her family is not being allowed to speak to Christopher and she thinks he was coerced by prosecutors into pleading guilty.

“I want to stop it before it’s too late. I want to talk to him. I want to be able to talk to him. I love my son no matter what and I want to fight for him, and I don’t want him to go down for something he didn’t do,” Watts said.


In their interview with ABC13, yet another side of the story has emerged:

Chris’ parents said their son changed once he met Shanann. “He was in sports from when he was 5 until 17 years old,” said Cindy. “There’s not one person you can talk to that will say anything about this kid. He was normal, he didn’t have a temper, he was just easy-going like his Dad. He’s not a monster.”

Chris’ parents said their son’s relationship with Shan’ann was abusive and they felt she isolated Chris from his family in the time they were together.

“It boils down to: I just want the truth of what really happened,” said Ronnie Watts, Chris’ father. “If he did it all, I can live with it. If he didn’t, I want him to fight for it.”

It seems incomprehensible that his parents wouldn’t go down to the jail to talk to their son ahead of the sentencing hearing on November 19. There’s still time to have a change of heart, and they have. But will he?

As Watts’ parents tell Media their son was “coerced” into making Plea Deal with DA the Rzuceks maintain their silence

The plea hearing one week ago today was bizarre for a number of reasons. The Rzuceks were there – on camera – during the press briefing afterwards, but said nothing to the media. The Watts family were there too, but someone got into the building and out of Greeley without being photographed by a single reporter. It was as if they were invisible.

Well, a week later the Watts family are breaking what appears to be a self-imposed silence. They’re maintaining that the plea deal was coerced, which suggests they [and perhaps Chris Watts himself] was pressured into signing the plea, and perhaps misled as well.

But there’s also the other side of the story. The Rzuceks. Do they not want answers too?


A few hours earlier reported on the story:

Christopher Watts will avoid the death penalty in exchange for the plea deal. He pleaded guilty to nine charges: Five counts of first-degree murder, one count of unlawful termination of pregnancy, and three counts of tampering with a dead body.

He will be formally sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Nov. 19.

Shannan Watts’ family declined to comment.

This suggests KDVR contacted the Rzuceks after Ronnie and Cindy Watts made their statement criticizing the plea deal, and the Rzuceks response was they had no comment. No comment, really?


Probably they’ve been given instructions by the District Attorney to play ball, at least until the sentencing hearing next week in Weld County Court, Greeley, on Monday November 19.

Chris Watts’ parents have until then to wave the flag that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.