A Colorado man pleaded guilty Tuesday to murdering his pregnant wife and two born daughters in a horrific case that shocked the nation.
Chris Watts, of Frederick, Colorado, did not face charges for killing a fourth victim, their unborn baby.
On Tuesday, Watts reached a deal to avoid the death penalty by pleading guilty to the first-degree murders of his pregnant wife, Shanann, 34, and their daughters Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, according to The Post-Standard.
The closest charge that Watts faced recognizing their unborn baby’s death was unlawful termination of pregnancy, which has to do with performing illegal abortions, not ending an unborn baby’s life. Colorado is one of just a few states that does not recognize the unlawful killing of an unborn baby as homicide in at least some circumstances.
It is unclear how far along Shanann was in her pregnancy. They knew the baby was a boy, and Shanann had a doctor’s appointment scheduled to hear her unborn son’s heartbeat the week when she went missing, a friend told the New York Post.
The friend, Nickole Atkinson, reported Shanann missing on Aug. 13, and police arrested Chris Watts several days later, according to the report. Two authorities told ABC 7 that Watts later confessed to killing his wife and young daughters.
A few days later, authorities 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 had strangled them to death.
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Christopher Watts first admitted to murdering Shanann Watts in court, but claimed she was responsible for their daughters’ murders. He claimed he spotted his wife attacking the girls on a baby monitor, before rushing into the room and murdering her.
“The spotlight that he tried to shine on Shanann falsely, incorrectly and frankly a flat-out lie, has been corrected,” Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke told a news conference following his guilty plea. “The spotlight shines directly where it belongs—on him.”
NBC reports Shanann’s mother, Sandy Rzucek, said she did not want the added emotions of the death penalty for her son-in-law, and was glad he agreed to the plea deal.
“She said, ‘he made the choice to take those lives. I do not want to be in a position of making the choice to take his,’” Rourke said Tuesday. “And so that’s about as firmly as she could have said it to me, and that was very compelling to all of us as we were talking about how to proceed on this case.”
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 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 of 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.