There was a tremendous sigh of relief after the February arrest of 20-year-old Phillip Watts Jr. Watts is charged with seven armed robberies in York County last winter. Four people were shot in those robberies, including two store clerks and two customers in Fort Mill, Rock Hill and York County.
Monday morning, the trial began for Watts, who police said confessed to all seven crimes and gave a detailed statement of how they happened, even telling police he was going to hit a store in the city of York next.
However, on Monday Watts took the stand in a pre-trial hearing and denied ever confessing to anything. He told the judge that he read about the robberies in the paper but didn't know anything about them.
He also claimed that the signature at the bottom of one of the signed police statements wasn't his.
Watts's mother, Valerie Dunham, told Eyewitness News that if her son said he didn't commit those crimes, then she believes him.
"He knows if he did it better than anyone," Dunham said. "He didn't do it. I didn't raise him like that, to tell lies."
Judge John Few asked that a handwriting expert be called in to study the two signatures.
Prosecutors are trying Watts for only one of the seven armed robberies, choosing to try each case one at a time. This time Watts is on trial for the robbery of the One Stop convenience store on Highway 5 near Northwestern High School. That crime happened on Jan. 12 and did not involve any shots fired.
The jury will not hear about the other six robberies or about any of the shootings Watts is charged with. A jury of eight men and four women was chosen to hear the case.
Late Monday, the jurors heard opening statements and then heard from Annette Hicks, the victim that night at the One Stop.
Solicitor Kevin Brackett asked Hicks if there was any doubt in her mind about who robbed her that night.
She said, "No," and said she'd seen Watts's picture in the newspaper a few weeks after the robbery and called police because she knew he was the man.
The jury also saw surveillance video of the robbery, showing a man in a blue hooded sweatshirt, pulling a gun and robbing the store.
The trial will continue Tuesday and is expected to wrap up by Wednesday afternoon.