FREDERICK, Colo. - The man accused of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters in Colorado was read his charges in court Tuesday.
Christopher Watts told authorities his wife killed the children after learning he wanted a separation, and that he erupted in rage after witnessing the killings and strangled their mother inside the family's suburban Denver home, according to court documents.
Days after letting police inside his home so they could help find his missing family, Christopher Watts told investigators "he would tell the truth."
Watts first asked to speak with his father then admitted to killing his wife, Shannan. Watts told police in court papers released Monday that he killed her after witnessing her strangling one of the girls on a baby monitor. The other child had already been killed by the woman, he said.
Watts, 33, was arrested last Wednesday. The couple has ties to North Carolina, and were married in Charlotte.
He faces three first-degree murder charges, two counts of murdering a child under 12, one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body.
In court Tuesday, Watts answered "Yes sir" to the judge when asked whether he understood the charges against him.
Shannan's father and brother both attended the hearing. Her brother comforted her father while he wept as the charges against Watts were read.
Prosecutors have 63 days to decide whether they’ll seek the death penalty against him.
District Attorney Michael Rourke declined to answer questions about the case Monday but said his office has three prosecutors working on it. Rourke also said it was too early to discuss whether he will seek the death penalty.
Police first visited the family's house on Aug. 13, after a friend asked officers to check on Shanann Watts. She had missed a doctor's appointment and wasn't answering calls or text messages hours after returning home after a business trip, the friend reported.
With Christopher Watts' approval, police searched the house and found his wife's cellphone stuffed inside a couch. Her purse was on a kitchen island and a suitcase was at the bottom of the stairs.
A detective spoke to Christopher Watts and learned about his separation plans. Watts first described the conversation with Shannan as civil but later told police that "they were both upset and crying" and she planned to go to a friend's house that day, the court papers said.
When Shanann Watts and the girls did not return home by Tuesday morning, investigators ramped up their efforts with the help of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Christopher Watts was interviewed by several local television stations, asking for the return of his family and discussing how much he missed spending time with his children.
It wasn't until Wednesday night that he made his promise to tell police the truth.
According to Watts' account, the early hours of Aug. 13 began with an intense conversation. He said he told his wife that he wanted a separation. Separately in the papers released Monday, investigators said they learned that Watts was "actively involved in an affair with a co-worker," something he denied in earlier conversations with police.
Watts told police that after discussing the separation he walked downstairs.
When he returned, he told them he spotted a baby monitor on his wife's nightstand - displaying her "actively strangling" their 3-year-old daughter, Celeste. He said the video feed also showed their other daughter, 4-year-old Bella, "sprawled out on her bed and blue."
"Chris said he went into a rage and ultimately strangled Shanann to death," the document said.
Police found surveillance video from a neighbor showing Watts' truck backing into the driveway at 5:27 a.m. and shortly after driving away from the house in Frederick, a small town on the grassy plains north of Denver where fast-growing subdivisions like the one the Watts family lived in intermingle with drilling rigs and oil wells.
Watts, an operator with Anadarko Petroleum, said he loaded his wife and daughters' bodies into the back seat of his truck and drove to an oil work site about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of the family's home. There, he buried Shanann Watts' body and "dumped the girls inside" oil tanks, according to the court document.
Separate court documents filed by Watts' defense attorney last week said the girls' bodies were submerged in crude oil for four days before police found the remains late Thursday. Their mother's body was found nearby, in a shallow grave, according to prosecutors.
Anadarko, one of Colorado's largest oil and gas drillers, has since fired Watts.
The court filing says Watts gave police an aerial photograph of the area and identified three areas where he placed the bodies. Investigators used a drone to search the area and spotted a bed sheet that matched other linens in the family home, along with fresh dirt.
Family and friends of Shanann Watts are left searching for answers, trying to reconcile Watts' cheery Facebook posts about her daughters, her pregnancy and her love for her husband.
Ashley Bell met Shanann Watts about two years ago, when the mother of two came into Bell's new tanning salon in nearby Dacono. The two women quickly became friends, and before long they were texting or calling each other almost daily. Their daughters played together during salon visits.
"I just don't understand it," said Bell, who described Christopher Watts as a loving father.
Shanann Watts was from North Carolina, and her parents' next-door neighbor, Joe Beach, said he saw her recently when she visited the neighborhood of modest homes in Aberdeen.
"We were talking about general things, about how her two girls were doing and how life was out in Colorado. She didn't give me an indication that there was anything wrong. She seemed pretty happy," he said.
Shanann Watts had recently shared with family and friends that she was pregnant with their third child.
The case has focused attention on Colorado's lack of a law allowing homicide charges in the violent deaths of fetuses, which is the case in 12 states. Proposals to allow homicide charges in the violent deaths of fetuses in Colorado have been stymied by debate about how to avoid infringing on abortion rights.
Republican lawmakers last tried to change the law after a 2015 case in Boulder County. A woman named Dynel Lane was charged with attempted murder and unlawful termination of a pregnancy for cutting open a pregnant woman's belly and removing her unborn baby girl. Prosecutors said they could not charge Lane with murder because a coroner found no evidence the infant lived outside the womb.
State law does allow a homicide charge if a fetus was alive outside the mother's body and then killed. State lawmakers in 2013 also allowed prosecutors to add extra felony charges against anyone who commits a crime that causes the death of a fetus.
Couple met in North Carolina, married in Charlotte
Shanann Watts was 15 weeks pregnant and was scheduled to find out the gender of her and her husband's third child in a couple of weeks. She was from Moore County, just outside Fayetteville, and attended Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines. Her family still lives in North Carolina.
Chris Lee Watts was born and raised in Cumberland County, North Carolina, according to public records. He went to Pine Forest High School in Fayetteville and graduated in 2003. He met his wife in North Carolina and they moved to Colorado in 2013.
Channel 9 reporter DaShawn Brown obtained a copy of the couple's marriage license, which stated that they were married in Mecklenburg County in 2012.
The pastor who officiated their wedding told Channel 9 their ceremony was in a SouthPark hotel.
In a Facebook video, Shanann once called Chris the best thing that's ever happened to her, saying he stuck with her through medical battles and was lucky to have him.
Shanann Watts' social media social media posts show the girls playing with their father and each other.
Shanann's father, Frank Rzucek, spoke to reporters for the first time on Monday. In a statement, he thanked police for their efforts, along with friends and neighbors who organized a candlelight vigil outside the family's home last week.
"Keep the prayers coming for our family," Rzucek said.
Slain Colorado woman quickly sold Belmont house
Property records show that Shanann Watts moved to Colorado from North Carolina with her husband around 2012.
Byron Falls, who bought Shanann Watt's house in Belmont, said Thursday that she had been in a hurry to sell and left behind the furniture as part of the sale. Falls said he and his wife bought the house in 2012.
The August 2012 deed shows that Watts signed it while already living in Colorado. Records show that she had bought the home in 2009.
Falls said he didn't meet Watts and that an agent handled the closing for her.
Couple had filed for bankruptcy three years ago
A 2015 bankruptcy filing for the Watts captures a picture of a family caught between a promising future and financial strain.
The June 2015 filing notes that Chris Watts had gotten a job six months earlier as an operator for Anadarko, and paystubs indicate his salary was about $61,500 per year.
Shanann was working at the time in a call center at a children's hospital earning about $18 per hour. Combined, they had earned $90,000 in 2014.
But they also had tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt, along with some student loans and medical bills -- for a total of $70,000 in unsecured claims on top of a sizable mortgage.
They said their nearly $3,000 mortgage and $600 in monthly car payments formed the bulk of their $4,900 in monthly expenses.
Slain wife, mother had recently visited North Carolina
Shanann Watts had just visited her hometown in North Carolina and a neighbor said she seemed happy.
Her parents' next-door neighbor, Joe Beach, said he had seen Shanann when she visited the neighborhood of modest homes in Aberdeen for three weeks. He thought she went back to Colorado within the last week.
"She was here for about three weeks. I talked her a couple times," he said in a phone interview. "We were talking about general things, about how her two girls were doing and how life was out in Colorado. She didn't give me an indication that there was anything wrong. She seemed pretty happy."
He said he knew her parents well and had known Shanann since she was a teenager. Beach said she was a nice person with two lovely children, both of whom he had seen on their recent visit.
"They were sweet kids. The oldest child was quite talkative for her age," he said.
He said he hasn't spoken to her parents since the tragedy, but a neighbor told him they flew to Colorado.
"I'm surprised that it happened," he said. "I wouldn't expect for anything like that to happen. She was good people."
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