Prosecution Requests Autopsies of Shanann Watts, Daughters Be Kept from Public
Prosecutors in the case of a Frederick man accused of killing his wife and children requested Monday that a judge keep the autopsies from being made public, according to court documents.
The request is “very common,” according to former Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett.
Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke requested the court give the coroner power to deny Colorado Open Records Act requests for the autopsies of Shanann, Bella and Celeste Watts.
Christopher Watts, 33, was arrested shortly after the three went missing in August. He is charged with five counts of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree unlawful termination of pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body.
The bodies of 34-year-old Shanann Watts, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste were found on property owned by Watts’ former employer, Anadarko Petroleum Co. Shanann Watts was 15 weeks pregnant with a boy, who her family said would be named Nico.
In the motion filed by Rourke, he argues the autopsy contains information that will be “critical evidence” at the trial, and that prior release of that evidence could taint witnesses that have yet to be interviewed, as well as potential jurors.
Garnett said it is common for both parties of a case to want to keep an autopsy from the public “simply because autopsies are very emotional.”
According to Garnett, the autopsy reports, along with any other investigative material, could be withheld until a verdict is reached in the case.
Jeffrey Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said it is positive the prosecution is following the legal procedure provided to withhold the information.
In other cases, coroners have held onto information despite records requests, without following the proper procedure to withhold them, he said.
While Roberts can’t say whether the autopsies should be released, he did say the government has to make a compelling argument as to why their release would “cause substantial injury to the public.”
Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, email@example.com