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.
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.
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.
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.
— Nancy Grace (@NancyGrace) November 6, 2018
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.
— Nick van der Leek – True Crime Rocket Science (@CrimeRocket) November 13, 2018
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.
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?