On Thursday, 33-year-old Frederick, Colorado resident Christopher Watts pleaded guilty to charges of nine counts of first-degree murder, three counts of murder in the first degree and two counts of unlawful termination of a pregnancy.
He also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of first-degree unlawful termination of a pregnancy in the deaths of his three daughters. The plea puts an end to a controversial case that captured the attention of some and outraged others across the country, who thought Christopher Watts and Shanann Watts had been seemingly punished enough for their acts of murder.
What made the case so toxic and what made it seem like two sides of the same story, ultimately, are these two headlines:
The Filthy House
According to police, during an interview with Chris Watts, he said he killed his pregnant wife because she killed his two daughters. Because Shanann Watts had previously given birth to a daughter, Bella, who died in the home fire that was said to have started as a result of an accidental gas explosion on August 13, Watts told police that the reason he killed Shanann Watts was that she was doing things to the house that Chris Watts didn’t like. For example, he was upset that she had been to the grocery store.
Why did he do it? Although it appears as though he may have had reasons to be upset, the case has been blasted by some as another case of domestic violence. Many have said that Shanann Watts did not deserve to be killed, especially since she had wanted to move, and because Chris Watts is married to another woman, Hanna.
Blog posts have raised similar concerns. Most recently, a woman alleged in a blog post that Shanann Watts forced her stepson, Celeste, to bring her dog food that had been burned, the reports of which were later proven false. “He tried to ignore him,” she wrote. “Well, he ate it anyway. He knows his mother is controlling and tells him what to do when she doesn’t like it. What else could he do when she showed him the kind of treatment she treated him with?”
How police investigated Shanann Watts’ death
In the aftermath of Shanann Watts’ death, police were criticized for how they conducted their investigation, to the point where many of the accusations of “torture” directed at them were said to be inaccurate. The victim’s husband was claimed to have told his mother that he had to take part in a poison-test of Shanann Watts’ urine and not to report it. Even after Watts had admitted that his wife had strangled his daughters, police had to watch him take blood and pressure samples.
“The trauma and lack of sleep and freezing temperatures, all on top of being accused of the murder of his wife and daughters, led to numerous difficulties that included tension between our five family members and several police visits to our house,” Shanann Watts’ mother, Ann Rudge, said in a Washington Post column in the wake of Watts’ arrest.
However, police took the various accusations seriously and were ready to stand their ground when confronted with the accusations, said Sarah Schaffer, police spokeswoman for Frederick. Schaffer said police had recovered the gas can from the house, considered and analyzed the numerous receipts from family members that suggested Shanann Watts was pregnant and had a miscarriage, and concluded all of these had been coincidences.
“I think the things [Shanann Watts] was accused of, and the things that the evidence showed, were vastly different than what she was accused of,” Schaffer said.
In particular, Schaffer said that police concluded that Watts had just not reported his wife’s death because he was concerned that her pregnancy might have made her difficult to have sex with him. Police also found that Chris Watts had been to the grocery store, and that his family members were significantly altered compared to normal. Police concluded that Shanann Watts had continued to wear her husband’s clothes and that she had not left.
“[Christopher Watts] was very intent on covering up the fact that Shanann had hurt Bella and Celeste,” Schaffer said.
A police report dated August 24, one day after the killings and just hours after a police interview, noted that police confirmed that the cause of death for the three girls was injuries caused by blunt force trauma, which police determined caused multiple fractures to their skulls. The daughters’ mother, also died from “multiple blunt force head trauma.”