Autopsy Reports Show Shanann Watts, Daughters Were Asphyxiated
The autopsy reports for Shanann Watts and her two young daughters show that all three were asphyxiated to death, and it’s probable that 4-year-old Bella Watts fought for her life.
Christopher Watts, the husband of pregnant Shanann Watts and the father of Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, pleaded guilty to killing all three in August. He was sentenced Monday to life in prison without parole, which he took as part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.
He was charged with five counts of first-degree murder, three counts of tampering with a deceased human body and unlawful termination of a pregnancy.
Michael Burson, a forensic pathologist, conducted all three autopsies. According to the reports, which were released immediately following a news conference Monday afternoon about the Christopher Watts case, the autopsies were finalized on Sept. 26 and 27.
The exact date of death was undeterminable due to the condition of the bodies. Shanann Watts was buried in a shallow grave at an oil site near Roggen, which was owned by the company Christopher Watts worked for at the time. Bella and Celeste were found in separate oil tanks nearby.
The cause of death for Shanann Watts, 34, was asphyxiation due to manual strangulation by another person, Burson wrote in the report. The manner of death for Watts, and both of her daughters, is homicide.
Watts was pronounced dead shortly after midnight on Aug. 16.
Burson found purple-black bruising on Watts’ neck, as well as possible abrasions going up the left side of her face. These were evidence of a “traumatic injury,” he wrote.
Watts was also pregnant with a boy, who her family said would have been named Nico. According to the report, she was in her second trimester.
A toxicology report was also conducted on each body. The blood alcohol concentration level for Watts’ spleen blood measured 0.128 percent, but Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said at the news conference that measure doesn’t mean she had been drinking. The level is consistent with decomposition, based on where and how she was buried, Rourke said.
The toxicology reports for Bella and Celeste show a number of substances were found in the girls’ systems, likely as a result of being placed in oil tank batteries.
Bella contained measurable amounts of ethanol and benzene derivative toluene. Benzene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, n-hexane, methylpentanes, n-butanol and acetaldehyde also were present. Celeste contained measure amounts of n-butanol and ethanol. N-propanol and acetaldehyde also were present.
Rourke said that his office asked a number of experts, along with the medical examiner’s office and coroner’s office, to examine what this meant. All concluded it was a result of the girls being submerged in oil tank batteries for days before their bodies were recovered, which the autopsy reports reiterate. Bella’s stomach contained 75 milliliters of “green-black fluid,” the report states, which was most likely from the oil tank she was placed inside.
Burson said the cause of death for Bella was asphyxiation due to smothering. Rourke said the examination found that Bella likely fought for her life during the act. According to the report, Burson found a laceration on her upper gumline and frenulum, as well as bite wounds on her tongue.
He also found Tardieu spots on her scalp, which are dark spots created when capillaries rupture that are often found on victims of asphyxiation.
Bella was pronounced dead at 5:50 p.m. Aug. 16.
The cause of death for 3-year-old Celeste was “likely” asphyxiation due to smothering, Burson said in the report. There was no evidence of a struggle or mention of signs like Tardieu spots.
Celeste was pronounced dead at the oil tank site at 3:40 p.m. Aug. 16.
At the news conference Monday, Rourke had also mentioned injuries that were indicative of the girls being placed in the oil tanks, which were accessible by shafts with 8-inch diameters. In the report, Burson said he found small cuts on Bella’s left buttocks. Rourke had said they found a tuft of blond hair on one of the entrances to the tanks.
Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, firstname.lastname@example.org