A Colorado man has avoided the death penalty for killing his pregnant wife and two young daughters in a case with North Carolina connections.
Christopher Watts, 33, married his late wife Shannan in Mecklenburg County in 2012, and her parents still live in North Carolina. On Tuesday, the Weld County, Colo., district attorney’s office said, Watts pleaded guilty to killing Shannan Watts, 34, and their daughters Bella, 3, and Celeste, 4, in August.
Their bodies were found hidden in a Colorado oil field, news accounts say, with Shannan Watts buried in a shallow grave and the girls dumped into an oil tank.
Watts pleaded guilty to nine counts in the case, including unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased body, the Weld County district attorney’s office said in a statement Tuesday.
“With the agreement of the victims’ family, DA (Michael) Rourke eliminated the death penalty from consideration in exchange for pleading guilty to all nine counts listed above,” the office said.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 19. The plea deal states that Watts will serve consecutive life terms for the three murders, news media reported.
Rourke met with Shannan Watts’ parents at their North Carolina home to discuss the case before agreeing to the plea deal, the Denver Post quoted Rourke as saying at a press conference.
Shannan Watts’s parents live in Aberdeen, records show. Christopher Watts lived in Mooresville about a decade ago, voter registration records show.
Shanann Watts’ mother, Sandra Rzucek, told Rourke “ ‘(Watts) made the choice to take their lives,’ ” the district attorney said, the Denver Post reported. ” ‘I didn’t want to be in the position to make the choice to take his.’ ”
At the time of her disappearance in August, according to an arrest affidavit, Christopher Watts initially told police officers he had just informed his wife that he wanted a separation. Investigators later learned Watts had been involved in an affair with a coworker, the affidavit states.
Watts appeared on the “Today” show two days after his wife’s disappearance to say he was living a “nightmare,” CBS News reported at the time.
“I just want them back,” he said in the interview. “I just want them to come back.”
In a later interview, the arrest affidavit says, Watts claimed that he had seen on a baby monitor that his younger daughter appeared dead and his wife was strangling his older daughter. Watts told investigators he “went into a rage” and strangled his wife, then dumped all three bodies at the oil field owned by a company he had worked for.
The funeral for Shannan Watts and her two girls was held in Pinehurst on Sept. 1, according to an obituary.