Citing the “critical” nature of the the information contained within them, Colorado prosecutors have moved to withhold the autopsies conducted in the triple homicide of Shanann Watts and her two young daughters, PEOPLE confirms.
The slayings, allegedly at the hands of Chris Watts, Shanann’s husband of nearly six years, attracted almost instant national attention — but the precise nature of the killings has remain unconfirmed.
In a Sept. 17 motion, prosecutors stated much the same while asking the judge to keep the autopsies from public view until Chris’ trial.
“The observations and findings contained in the coroner’s autopsy report will be critical evidence at trial,” prosecutors argued. “The disclosure of this information to the public prior to trial could result in tainting witnesses that have not yet been interviewed and impacting future jurors.”
In a brief response on Sept. 21, Chris’ defense said that it had yet to receive copies of the autopsies and so was unable to take a position on whether they should be made secret.
“Failure to turn over this evidence violates due process of law, undermines the fundamental fairness of the proceedings, makes counsel’s effective assistance impossible, and continues to put Mr. Watts on unequal footing with the government,” his attorney said.
In an order filed Wednesday, Judge Marcelo A. Kopcow noted that as of Monday the final autopsies had not been made available to either prosecutors or Chris’ attorney, with the coroner awaiting “final reports from the forensic pathologist.”
Once the autopsies were circulated, Kopcow will hold a hearing to determine if they should be released. Until that time, he ordered them to remain confidential.
Previous defense filings in the case have suggested the Watts children, 3-year-old Celeste and 4-year-old Bella, may have been strangled.
According to Chris’ arrest affidavit, he allegedly confessed to police that he had strangled Shanann, then 15 weeks pregnant with their son, but only after witnessing her strangle Celeste, with Bella apparently lifeless nearby.
Chris was arrested late on Aug. 15 and subsequently charged with first-degree murder in all three deaths, among other crimes.
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His wife and daughters were reported missing on Aug. 13, not long after Shanann returned from a work trip in Arizona.
A day after Chris was taken into custody, authorities announced they had discovered the bodies of Shanann, Bella and Celeste at an oil site owned by Chris’ former employer. (He was fired on Aug. 15.)
The autopsies are not the only disputed issue in the case as it winds its way toward a trial.
Prosecutors have recently moved the judge to compel Chris to give up copies of his handprints and footprints and cheek swabs in order to assist in their testing of collected evidence.
The judge granted the prosecution’s request, over defense objections.
Chris remains behind bars and has not yet entered a plea.
His public defender is barred by office policy from discussing the case.