Prosecution Denies Responsibility for Media Leaks in Christopher Watts Case, Says Investigation is Unreasonable
The Weld County District Attorney’s Office denies it is responsible for possible leaks to the media in the case of a Frederick man accused of killing his wife and children, and says the defense’s request to investigate who is responsible would take an unreasonable amount of time and money.
In the response filed Sept. 6 and recently made public, District Attorney Michael Rourke says that no one in his office has made statements outside the courtroom that could prejudice a jury against Christopher Watts, 33, and that his office also has taken all possible efforts to prevent law enforcement from spreading such information.
Watts made national headlines when he was arrested shortly after his wife and two daughters went missing. 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 Company. Shanann Watts was 15 weeks pregnant with a boy, who her family said would be named Nico.
The public defenders serving as Chris Watts’ attorneys filed a motion Aug. 29 asking the government to investigate whether the prosecution made any extrajudicial statements or adequately tried to prevent the spread of prejudicial information.
According to the prosecution’s response, the motion asks for an investigation into the source of alleged leaks to the press, citing several news stories that use unidentified sources “close to the investigation.”
Prosecutors must follow the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct, which forbids them from saying something outside of court that could create prejudice in a legal proceeding.
While it’s common for the defense to point out potential prejudice to a jury early, the wording of the motion that calls for “the government” to investigate the issue is “unusual,” according to Stan Garnett, Boulder County District Attorney.
The prosecution’s motion argues that the district attorney has taken a number of steps to ensure other agencies don’t disseminate information as well. According to the motion, the office told the Frederick Police Department, Weld County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado Bureau of Information and FBI to direct all media inquiries on the Watts case to the district attorney’s office. It also addressed the media on three occasions and sent an email to all office staff emphasizing the need for confidentiality.
“The People are aware of and concerned that media outlets have allegedly obtained information from sources with law enforcement,” the motion reads.
However, the motion also argues that asking the court to devise a special commission to investigate the issue would be an “unjustified use of limited government resources.” The commission would need to interview “potentially hundreds” of government employees, inspect thousands of pages of phone records and then write reports.
“Who would staff and fund such an investigation?” the motion asks.
The prosecution also argues that it did not violate the court’s rules, and that it did take “reasonable care” to prevent law enforcement or others from making extrajudicial statements.
“The fact a leak may have occurred does not constitute a per se violation of the Court’s order,” the motion reads.
The public defender’s office is not commenting on Watts’ case, citing office policy, according to a statement on its website .
Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, firstname.lastname@example.org