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What Are The Chances Chris Watts Could Actually Appeal His Conviction?
Chris Watts was sentenced to prison after murdering his pregnant wife, Shannan, and his two young daughters, Bella and Celeste.
Is Chris Watts, the man who killed his entire family including his pregnant wife with his bare hands in Colorado last year, considering appealing his life sentence? And if so, how likely is it the convicted killer would be released?
An unnamed source who claims to be close to Watts tells PEOPLE Watts is “looking into ways to appeal” his sentence.
“Obviously, it would be an uphill battle for him, because he pleaded guilty,” the person told PEOPLE. “And with a guilty plea, you forfeit some of your rights to appeal. But that’s not absolute, so there’s a small chance that it could work out in his favor.”
Watts did indeed plead guilty last year to killing his pregnant wife, Shanann, and their daughters, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste. As a result, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The nation became obsessed with the case, not just because of the shocking details but also because Watts initially portrayed himself as a worried husband and father concerned about his then-missing family.
The unnamed source said Watts is researching other legal cases and speaking with attorneys about the consideration over the phone, but noted Watts doesn’t have any solid plans.
“It would cost him money that he just doesn’t have but he is still exploring his options," the source explained.
Would he even be able to, though?
For starters, he took a plea deal which indicates that he has timed out of his chances to appeal.
He’s not supposed to either.
“The defendant was advised at the time of his guilty plea that he was giving up certain constitutional rights, including the right to an appeal,” Krista Henery, Community Relations Director for the Weld County District Attorney’s Office, told Oxygen.com.
OK, so he's not supposed to, but that doesn't sound like he absolutely can't. An expert told Oxygen.com there are ways around this.
Aya Gruber, professor of law at the University of Colorado, told Oxygen.com that although he is timed out, it is possible. She said a person can appeal if they claim the sentence is illegal or in regards to the appeal process itself.
“[You can] if you were not informed, or you were coerced, or you didn’t get effective assistance of counsel,” she said. “All appeals are pretty much long shots but appealing a plea bargain on the basis of coercion or ineffective assistance of counsel, that’s like a super long shot.”
Gruber added that because Chris is detained there is always habeas corpus, which is the act of a person claiming unlawful imprisonment.
“It allows a person who is detained to challenge their detention, but without a direct appeal it’s very difficult to do,” she said.
So, Watts probably won't be getting out of jail.
In February of this year, Watts sat down with investigators from the Frederick Police Department, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and the FBI for a five-hour interview. That interview revealed disturbing details about how Chris killed both his wife and two daughters, including the fact that he had sex with Shanann shortly before strangling her to death and then transported her body to an oil field with his two daughters, where he then smothered them to death before disposing of their bodies.
During the early stages of his first confession, Watts admitted to only killing Shanann, claiming he only did so as a reaction to her killing their children.
Watts whispered to his father, referencing his wife, during that confession, which has been obtained by Oxygen.com. “She ... she smothered them ... they were smothered.”
Later, he claimed investigators themselves that planted that initial fiction in his mind.
“I never even thought about it until you guys mentioned it,” he said during the February interview with the authorities. “I just went with it.”