Coral Eugene Watts: The Sunday Morning Slasher
The Final Stretch
In April 2004, Coral Eugene Watts was extradited from his Texas prison to Pontiac, Michigan to face charges for the 1979 murder of Helen Dutcher. During Watt's arraignment, his defense attorney, Ronald Kaplovitz, entered an innocent plea on his behalf. His trial was expected to begin in November 2004.
If convicted of murder, Watts could serve a mandatory life sentence. There is no death penalty in the state of Michigan. However, Pam Easton reported in an April 2004 article in The Grand Rapids Press that if he isn't convicted in Michigan, there is "enough evidence for a murder or capital murder charge against him for the March 1982 killing of 14-year old Emily LaQua" from Waller County, Texas. LaQua was found strangled in a culvert five months after she disappeared while on her way to work.
In November 2004, Watts ' trial began at the Oakland County Circuit Court. It was expected to last two to three weeks. Despite Kaplovitz's attempts to exclude certain pieces of evidence, Circuit Judge Richard Kuhn decided to admit Watts ' "decades-old" murder confessions because they showed a "pattern of behavior," Sarah Karush reported in an AP Online article.
The prosecution team, led by Assistant Attorney General Donna Pendergast of the Michigan Attorney General's Office, had lined up several key witnesses including, Joseph Foy who witnessed Watts' murder of Dutcher, three surviving victims and the detectives who took Watts' confessions.
On November 15th, the jury heard the harrowing testimony of Julie Sanchez who recounted how Watts attacked her as she tried to change her flat tire on the side of a Texas highway in January 1982. According to a Court TV article, the NASA employee demonstrated how Watts sliced her throat open and stabbed her repeatedly before leaving her for dead. She further claimed that at one point he turned around to look at her and laughed.
Melinda Aguilar and Lori Lister, Watts ' last known victims also gave testimony that day, recounting their brutal attack. Like Sanchez, Aguilar claimed that Watts seemed to enjoy inflicting pain on her and her roommate. In a November 15th AP article, Aguilar said that the moment she pretended to be dead she heard "Watts give a little jump and clap his hands," obviously "enjoying what he was doing."
The state's key witness, Joseph Foy also testified about what he saw years earlier. Ginsberg quoted Foy who claimed that he "looked into the face of evil..." and that "there was no soul, no feeling, no remorse..." At the time he alerted the police to Dutcher's murder, he provided them with a composite of the killer. The composite bore remarkable similarities to Watts.
Following the prosecutions closing arguments on November 16th, Watts ' attorney questioned whether Foy was actually close enough to get a good look at the killer. Foy was allegedly more than 80 feet away from the suspect and it was dark on the night in question. He also urged the jury to "focus their attention on what happened the night of Dutcher's death, not what Watts had done in the past," CNN reported. The defense arguments were brief and they rested their case on November 16th.
The following day, jurors were left to decide Watts ' fate. On November 18th, the jury returned a verdict. He was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Helen Dutcher. Grinberg stated that Watts reacted to the judgment by rolling his eyes and shaking his head, whereas the victims' families rejoiced after hearing the verdict and 'embraced each other and Jospeph Foy.' Watts eventually recieved a life sentence, although it would prove to be shorter than most expected.
On Friday September 21, 2007, Watts died in a Michigan hospital of prostate cancer. He was 53-years-old. His death came just two month after a jury convicted him in the 1974 stabbing death of Western Michigan University student Gloria Steele, 19. 'We're just glad that it's over,' Carol Tilley, mother of Linda Tilley, told Star-telegram.com. 'We feel like it helps to close the book on this. It's never over. But it helps.'