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Chris Watts, the Colorado man who pleaded guilty to killing his pregnant wife and two young daughters, has learned his fate.
Watts was sentenced to five life terms in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders of his late wife and their two toddlers, a judge ruled on Monday afternoon. He was also sentenced to 48 years in prison for the murder of his unborn son and 12 years for each of three counts of tampering with a dead body.
The sentencing comes just a few weeks after he accepted a plea deal on Nov. 6. In avoiding a possible death sentence, he pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of murdering a child, one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body.
“Prison for the remainder of his life is exactly where he belongs for murdering his entire family,” Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said in court on Monday.
The country first learned more about this harrowing Frederick, Colo. case in August, when Watts called the sudden disappearance of his 34-year-old pregnant wife Shan’ann Watts and their daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, “a nightmare that I just can’t wake up from” in an on-camera interview. The two were also expecting a son, to be named Nico.
However, Watts’ claim that the mother and daughters went to a playdate and never returned began to unravel when Nichol Kessinger, the woman he had been secretly seeing since July, learned he had not been at the end of divorce proceedings, as he had claimed to her. Instead, his wife and children were missing and she suspected that was not the whole story.
In an interview with The Denver Post, Kessinger explained that they had met at work in July and Watts did not wear a wedding ring. When she inquired further, she learned he had children and he allegedly told her that the divorce was mutual and almost final, according to the newspaper. By the end of July, he allegedly told her the divorce was complete and eventually asked for help finding an apartment for him and the toddlers, the newspaper reported.
On the day his wife and children disappeared, Watts texted Kessinger to tell her they were missing, but seemed calm, as she described to the Post. However, after the media swarmed his house, she learned some of the crucial details left out of his story. “When I read the news, I found out he was still married and his wife was 15 weeks pregnant,” Kessinger told the newspaper. “I thought, ‘If he was able to lie to me and hide something that big, what else was he lying about?'” According to Kessinger, he continued to be emotionless during their conversations and, after unsuccessfully pushing him for information, told him not to speak to her until they were found.
On Aug. 15, the day of his arrest, Kessinger called the Weld County Sheriff’s Office to report their relationship and his lies and met with FBI investigators. Later that night, Watts was taken into custody. A day later, Shan’ann’s body was found buried in a shallow grave and their daughters’ bodies were found hidden in nearby oil tanks, all on an oil site owned by the company where he had worked before his firing.
It was later revealed in an unsealed arrest warrant affidavit that Watts claimed to a detective that he killed his wife “in a rage” over allegedly seeing her strangle their daughter Celeste on a baby monitor while Bella was “sprawled out on her bed and blue.” He also claimed the alleged sequence of events took place after Shan’ann returned home from a work trip in the early hours of Aug. 13, the day they were later reported missing, and he told her he wanted a separation. He told police he drove their bodies roughly 40 miles away and buried them on the oil site. However, his allegations against his late wife were entirely disputed by Rourke in court on Monday.
“The evidence tells us this: the defendant coldly and deliberately ended four lives—not in a fit of rage, not by way of accident, but in a calculated and sickening manner,” he said. Rourke described Watts strangling Shan’ann to death and smothering their daughters. According to Rourke, Bella bit her tongue multiple times before she died. “She fought back for her life as her father smothered her,” he described.
As was previously confirmed, Watts then transported their bodies to the oil site, where he hid them separately—Shan’ann in a shallow grave and Bella and Celeste in separate oil tanks—after texting a co-worker to say he would take care of the site, according to the district attorney. Rourke said Watts later called his daughters’ school to unenroll them and contacted a realtor to discuss selling their house.
While Watts declined to make a statement himself during the sentencing, Shan’ann’s parents and Watt’s mother tearfully spoke. “I have no idea who gave you the right to take their lives,” Shan’ann’s mom Sandy Rzucek said to Watts. “This might be hard for some to understand how I can sit here under these circumstances and tell you, although we are heartbroken, although we can’t imagine what could have led us to this day…we love you,” Watt’s mom Cindy Watts told him.
Ultimately, Shan’ann’s family opposed the death penalty for Watts.
“Four lives were lost at the hands of the defendant on August 13 for reasons that we will never fully understand or know,” Rourke concluded. “In the end, the Rzucek family was much more merciful to him than he was to his wife, his daughters and his unborn son.”