It was the family of Chris Watts‘ three murder victims — his pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, and their girls, Bella and Celeste — who asked Colorado prosecutors not to seek the death penalty against him for his crimes. And it was once he would not face a possible execution that Chris agreed to plead guilty, on Tuesday, to all of the charges against him.
Speaking to reporters later Tuesday afternoon, after Chris’ surprising plea, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke described some of his office’s discussions with Shanann’s family leading up to the deal and how the decision was reached to take the death penalty off of the table.
“I will be the first to tell you I truly appreciate the Rzuceks being present not only in the state of Colorado but in this room,” Rourke said at the news conference.
He said the subject of a possible execution for Chris, who was arrested on Aug. 15 in the murders of his family, was a key topic of discussion.
“When the question was asked of me by their family, ‘What is the realistic outcome of this particular case as it relates to the death penalty?’ — the best I could tell them is, ‘I don’t know.’ “
While Rourke said he followed standard procedure in this case, acting no differently despite its notoriety, the clear wishes of Shanann’s family’s were unavoidable.
“I had in my mind from the day this occurred steps in the process that I felt were due diligence in order to come to this decision,” he said. “I don’t think any elected district attorney ever wants to have to make a decision about whether or not to seek the death penalty as it relates to an individual.”
“But,” he continued, “when I have a family who has been so incredibly supportive and so incredibly firm in their belief that the death penalty not be sought, I don’t know how I would have said to them, ‘I’m going to do it anyway.’ “
“[Shanann’s mother] said it very, very poignantly to me,” Rourke recalled. “She said, ‘He made the choice to take those lives, but I don’t want to be in the position to take his.’ “
The decision not to seek death was made about four days ago — a choice that left Shanann’s loved ones feeling “a combination of relief, extraordinary sadness that we ever had to have that conversation in the first place,” Rourke said, “and I can only say that I hope there is a sense of closure.”
Still, he cautioned: Though the family was present for Chris’ plea and the subsequent presser, they were “not prepared nor do they want to answer questions at this point.”
Chris is set to be sentenced on Nov. 19 and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
His guilty plea marked the end of a months-long string of lies: First, when claiming his wife and kids had gone missing of their own accord in August and, later, alleging (according to an arrest affidavit) that he strangled Shanann in a “rage” after watching her strangle their younger daughter.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Rourke underlined that any hope of closure was likely to be incomplete, given the loss of what Chris had done.
“The tragedy that sits before us today is the loss of four beautiful lives,” Rourke said, “and no matter what happens today or at a sentencing hearing down the road, we cant get them back.”