Did Prosecutors Screw Up the Chris Watts Case by Leaving Him Room to Wiggle Out of Guilty Plea?

There are some odd things about the circumstances surrounding the plea deal Chris Watts struck with prosecutors, according to Law&Crime Network host and former Morris County, N.J. head prosecutor Bob Bianchi. Circumstances that he would never have allowed to happen under his watch.

Chris Watts, the Colorado dad who was accused of murdering his pregnant wife Shanann Watts and their young children Bella and Celeste, pleaded guilty to all charges last week. It happened after a status hearing was moved up without explanation. Meanwhile, Chris Watts’ mother Cindy has suggested that the prosecution may have coerced her son into taking this deal.

“I want to stop it before it’s too late. I want to talk to him. We haven’t been able to talk to him. I love my son. Yes, I love my son no matter what. No matter what, and I want to fight for him. And I don’t want him to go down for something that he didn’t do,” she said.

Bianchi explained during an appearance on HLN that there are things about the deal he never would have allowed as prosecutor. In particular, we still don’t know what Watts’ motive was — even though we have every reason to expect that a motive would come out as part of the plea deal. Could this be a problem for the prosecution?

Bianchi suggested that they didn’t quite nail this down.

“What I do find to be unusual in this case … is that I would have required a proffer session with the defendant, where he would have sat down in order to be spared the death penalty,” Bianchi said. “He would have spilled the beans on everything, from A to Z, we would have known what the motive is, which we don’t know right now, and he would have clearly allocuted in court, got up and said this is why I did it.”

“The only way he’s going to get out of this is … a belated assertion of innocence is not a basis to withdraw a plea,” Bianchi continued. “However, his lawyers didn’t do any psychiatric examinations and the mother points this out. And that could a be huge deal here.”

“Maybe he did go into a rage. Maybe there’s an insanity defense or a diminished capacity defense. That takes it out of murder and makes it a non-death penalty case,” he added. “[T]hat would be the only sliver of a basis that he could withdraw this plea.”

“While a prosecutor does not need to prove motive in any case, you certainly want that,” he added. “In other words, to protect the file, to protect the belated assertion of innocence, I would have said to the defense attorneys — and they may have done this — but I would have demanded you come in, fall on your sword, tell us everything A to Z so I can eliminate all of these defenses of insanity, passion provocation, diminished capacity.”

“This way it’s locked up in a box, so if you come after the plea and say ‘Hey, I no longer want to take the deal’ — which happens all the time — you will not be able to get out of it because we have a very specific statement about the reasons why you did it and we eliminated all of the defenses,” Bianchi concluded. “That did not occur here.”

Chris Watts is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday.

[Image via HLN screengrab]

Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.

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