Colorado dad Chris Watts did not want to plead guilty to murdering his wife and two daughters, a source close to him tells PEOPLE. But his lawyers helped him realize that, given the extensive evidence against him and his own damning behavior during the investigation, he had little choice.
“There evidence against him was overwhelming,” the source says of Watts, 33, who first drew national attention when he was charged with killing wife Shan’ann Watts, 34, and their daughters, Bella and Celeste, not long after giving interviews claiming they were missing and pleading for their safe return.
Later, in police custody, Chris claimed that he killed Shan’ann in a “rage” in their home in Frederick after witnessing her killing Celeste when he said he wanted to separate, according to his arrest affidavit.
“There was physical evidence and his own words that would convict him,” the source close to him says. “His story didn’t work. He got angry. He didn’t want to plead guilty. But he really had no choice, considering the evidence. It took a little bit of time for him to come around, but he did.”
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, not long after Chris pleaded guilty to nine charges, including first-degree murder, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said that they were approached several weeks ago by Chris’ defense team about a possible plea — not the other way around.
The decision was made about four days ago to take an execution off the table, which was the maximum possible penalty Chris faced if convicted, Rourke said. In exchange, he agreed to plead guilty.
“Chris had to come to terms with reality,” the source says. “He didn’t like it at all, but he’s smart enough to know that his back was against the wall, and the best thing for him to do was to plead guilty.”
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Still, coming to terms with pleading to something he had previously denied — in an unusually quick about-face for high-profile cases — was not smooth.
“There was some yelling, and some crying,” the source says of Chris. “But eventually he acknowledged that his life was over after he killed Shan’ann. He would have been facing years of legal challenges, and best-case scenario he would have been acquitted. Worst-case scenario, he gets put to death.”
The source continues: “Even up until this week, it wasn’t clear if he would change his mind. He certainly could have. But he made the right choice for himself, and probably the right choice for his family.”
Chris will be sentenced on Nov. 19 and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, per the terms of his plea deal.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, prosecutor Rourke said Chris’ plea had exposed his lies — such as the claim that Shan’ann killed their children — to everyone.
“What I can tell you most affirmatively today, by what happened in the court room, is the spotlight that he tried to shine on Shan’ann falsely, incorrectly and, frankly, a flat-out lie has been corrected,” he said.
“The spotlight shines directly where it belongs: on him.”
• With reporting by KC BAKER