SPRING LAKE, N.C. — As Chris Watts awaits a life sentence for the murders of his pregnant wife and the couple’s two young daughters, his mother struggles with questions that have no immediate answers.
What happened the night Shanann, Bella and Celeste Watts were killed? Why was her family denied the right to consult with her son before he agreed to plead guilty to all charges and avoid the possibility of the death penalty? Was her son truly responsible for all three deaths? Or was he telling the truth when he initially claimed that his wife murdered their daughters and that he killed her in a fit of rage?
“It would have helped us so much to be able to talk to him,” Cindy Watts told 9NEWS. “I wouldn’t have to go through all this now. Everything seems to be shrouded in secrecy. Just tell us what is going on.”
Sitting in the home where she and her husband, Ronnie, raised Chris and his older sister, Cindy Watts said she can’t reconcile anything in her son’s childhood with the violence that investigators believe unfolded early the morning of Aug. 13.
That’s when Shanann returned from a business trip – and by daybreak she and the girls were dead.
“He’s not the sociopath next door,” Cindy Watts said in a wide-ranging interview. “He’s not a psychopath.”
Shanann, 34, and the girls were reported missing later that day. Initially, Chris Watts told investigators that his family was at home, asleep, when he left for work that morning. But within days, his story crumbled and he was arrested, and Shanann’s body was discovered in a shallow grave in Weld County and the girls’ remains were located in oil storage tanks.
According to court documents and Cindy Watts, Chris Watts told his father and then investigators that he and Shanann discussed separating after she returned from that trip. Then, he said, Shanann killed their daughters, and he responded by killing her.
Investigators and prosecutors didn’t believe him – and on Nov. 6 he pleaded guilty to all counts:
- Three counts of first-degree murder after deliberation for the slayings of his wife, Shanann, 34, and daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, who everyone called CeCe, 3.
- Two counts of first-degree murder where the victim was under age 12 and the killer was in a position of trust for the deaths of Bella and Celeste.
- A single count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy for Shanann’s unborn child, a boy the couple had planned to name Nico.
- Three counts of tampering with a deceased human body for burying Shanann’s remains and dumping the bodies of the girls into oil storage tanks.
In exchange for the guilty pleas, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke agreed to take the death penalty off the table. On Monday, he faces a minimum of three consecutive life terms with no possibility of parole.
Cindy Watts told 9NEWS her son’s lawyers cut off all contact with him following his arrest and blocked her and her husband from talking to him about the plea deal before it was finalized. She began calling reporters on Monday, hoping to share her concerns and possibly scuttle the plea deal before it’s too late.
Rourke declined to comment on her statements, his spokeswoman, Krista Henery, told 9NEWS. A message left for Watts’ lead attorney, James Merson, was not returned.
Chris and Shanann Watts appeared to have an ideal life. A beautiful home in Erie. Two adorable daughters.
“Bella was just like Chris,” Cindy Watts said. “Just, just like him – shy, cautious, conservative. CeCe was a ball of fire. I mean she was fearless – completely fearless. She just loved to run, run, run, run, run. They were wonderful.
“It breaks my heart to know that they’re not here. They were beautiful children.”
But Cindy Watts told 9NEWs that the appearances were deceiving. She and her husband did not go to the couple’s 2012 wedding.
“We didn’t attend because Shanann and I just couldn’t get along,” she said. “I didn’t like the way she treated him.”
That friction continued throughout the marriage, she said. She said she did not believe he was excited about Shanann’s pregnancy.
So when her daughter-in-law and granddaughters were reported missing, she initially assumed that Shanann had simply taken the girls and left.
Now, she has lots of questions and few answers. On one hand, she wonders whether his initial story – that Shanann killed the girls and he killed her – could be true. On the other, she realizes it’s possible he murdered them all.
“That scares me to death,” she said. “It scares me to death to think that he could have done all of this. And I don’t wanna go there. I don’t wanna go there now.”
But she also doesn’t understand why took the plea deal.
“I wouldn’t,” she said. “I’d fight. I’d fight to the end. But then you ask yourself, would a normal person put – dispose of the bodies the way he did?”
And she doesn’t understand why her son’s attorneys wanted to block her and her husband from having contact with her son – something they said was necessary, she told 9NEWS, because of fears that anything he said about the crime could be used against him.
Attorney Scott Robinson, a 9NEWS legal analyst, said that while he always cautions clients to be careful talking on jail telephones and mind what they write he had never blocked contact with family members.
“In the absence of some extraordinary family dynamic, I can’t imagine cutting off a client charged with littering – let alone one charged with first-degree murder – from contact with the family.”
If Cindy Watts had her druthers, her son would withdraw his guilty pleas before Monday – something that is legally possible, but not easy, Robinson said. He could do it only if he could “show a fair and just reason.”
Once he is sentenced, trying to undo the plea gets much more difficult, Robinson said.
Whether Chris Watts is considering trying to change anything isn’t known.
“I wake up every morning crying, you know, thinking this is not going to be what’s going to happen every single day,” Cindy Watts said. “It’s just so hard to get through it. I just don’t know how to get through it.”
Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-871-1862.