Shanann Watts' Family Didn't Want Her Killer Husband To Face The Death Penalty
Chris Watts chose to end the lives of his pregnant wife and their two daughters, but the family of his victims didn't want to make the same choice, according to Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke.
"That's about as firmly as she could have said it to me," Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said of Sandra Rzucek's request not to seek the death penalty in the murder of her daughter and grandchildren, according to the Associated Press.
Watts agreed to plead guilty Tuesday to the charges against him as soon as the death penalty was removed from the table, but prosecutors didn't agree to the plea deal until they had lengthy discussions with Shanann Watts' family.
"When I have a family who has been so incredibly supportive and so incredibly firm in their belief that the death penalty not be sought, I don't know how I would have said to them, 'I'm going to do it anyway,'" Rourke said, according to People Magazine.
Last month, Rourke and another prosecutor traveled to North Carolina to talk about the case with the Rzuceks and discussed, among other things, the "extraordinary delays" that can result in death penalty cases.
In his remarks to the media on Tuesday, Rourke also referenced the 2013 decision by Gov. John Hickenlooper to block the execution of Nathan Dunlap, a man who was convicted in 1996 of killing four people inside a restaurant.
"I explained that to the Rzucek family and obviously that gives them some pause, when I'm asking them to endure a four- or five-year delay prior to a trial, and many more years of that of appeals, and post-conviction hearings before that sentence could ever possibly be imposed," he said, while the Rzucek family looked on, according to local news channel CBS4.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in Colorado in 1977, only one person has been executed, the Denver Post reports.
Although jurors were given the option of sentencing James Holmes, the Aurora movie theater shooter, to death during his trial for the murders, they opted not to impose the sentence.
“[We] spent quite a bit of time with [Shanann’s family] talking about the state of the death penalty in Colorado, the realities of the death penalty, we explained to them the extraordinary delays that currently exist in the State of Colorado, as a result of, in part, the actions of our current governor," Rourke said, according to CBS4.
While he pointed to political factors within the state as part of the decision made by prosecutors not to seek the death penalty, ultimately Rourke said he made the decision to honor the family's wishes.
“You do what the victims’ family wants you to do in this case," he said.
Watts pleaded guilty in a Colorado courtroom Tuesday to five counts of first-degree murder, one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body.
His voice shook as he entered "guilty" for each count.
He will be formally sentenced on Nov. 19. It's not clear yet whether Shanann Watts' family will speak during the sentencing hearing, but Rouke said an important aspect of the deal was that none of the charges against him were dismissed.
"It was important that each of those beautiful human beings be reflected in the sentence," Rourke said, according to the Denver Post.