A Colorado man faces three first-degree murder charges for allegedly killing his pregnant wife and two young daughters but not a fourth for allegedly killing their unborn baby boy.
The Coloradoan reports the Weld County District Attorney’s Office formally charged Christopher Watts, 33, of Frederick, Colorado, on Monday.
The charges include three counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Shanann, 34, Celeste, 4, and Bella Watts, 3, two counts of first-degree murder for a person under age 12 while being in a position of trust and three counts of tampering with a deceased body.
His only charge related to the unborn baby’s death is one count of unlawful termination of pregnancy, a charge that does not acknowledge the unborn baby’s life or death. Prosecutors are not able to bring such a charge because, unlike most states, Colorado does not have an unborn victims of violence act or fetal homicide law that allows additional charges for killing or injuring unborn babies in crimes committed against their mothers.
The Epoch Times reports Shanann was 15-weeks pregnant with a son when she died. Last week, she had a doctor’s appointment scheduled to hear her unborn son’s heartbeat when she went missing, a friend of the family told the New York Post.
Stan Garnett, a former Boulder County District Attorney, explained how Colorado law works in relation to pregnant women and their unborn babies in an interview with Denver7.
“Under both Colorado statute as it’s interpreted by the Colorado Supreme Court and Colorado case law, unless a child is born alive and is then killed after living independently from the mother, it’s virtually impossible to bring a homicide charge,” Garnett said. “Colorado requires that the child live outside of the mother’s womb independently and then be killed as a result of something that occurs then.”
Christopher Watts could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted of all the charges. On Monday, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said it is “way too early” to consider whether to seek the death penalty.
Police said Watts admitted to killing his wife in anger, but told them that his wife killed their daughters after they had a fight about separating, according to the Coloradoan.
Interestingly, the newspaper noted the criminal complaint said Shanann Watts “died as a result of the unlawful termination of the pregnancy”; however, it did not provide any more details. Autopsy reports have not yet been released.
A friend, Nickole Atkinson, reported Shanann missing on Aug. 13, and police arrested Chris Watts several days later, according to the report.
On Thursday, authorities said they found the bodies of Shanann, Bella and Celeste on the property of a petroleum company where Chris worked. The girls’ bodies were found in a tank of oil. According to reports, authorities suspect that Chris strangled them to death.
Police have not yet released a motive, but friends said the couple had financial problems and Shanann suspected that Chris was cheating on her.
The horrific story has garnered national attention, and has renewed debates about a Colorado fetal homicide law.
Colorado pro-life leaders have attempted to pass an unborn victims of violence law for many years, but the attempts have failed repeatedly in the state legislature, the most recent being in 2015.
The 2015 bill was prompted by a gruesome crime involving Dynel Catrece Lane, who attacked a pregnant woman and cut her 7-month unborn baby from her womb. In this unbelievable act of violence, the baby died but the mother, Michelle Wilkins, survived. In 2016, a judge sentenced Lane to 100 years in prison for assaulting and attempting to murder Wilkins, but Lane was not punished for the baby girl’s death.
According to the National Right to Life Committee, 38 states recognize the unlawful killing of an unborn child as homicide in at least some circumstances.