Capital murder suspect pleads guilty, avoids deaths penalty - The Southeast Sun: News

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Capital murder suspect pleads guilty, avoids deaths penalty

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Posted: Wednesday, June 30, 2004 12:00 am

Christopher Watkins, accused of capital murder in the February 2003 deaths of Betty Council and Margo Donald, accepted a prison recommendation of life without parole Monday morning, dodging the possibility of the death penalty. Although Watkins maintained his innocence at his arraignment hearing in July 2003, he pleaded guilty before Circuit Court Judge Robert Barr Monday, admitting that he shot Council and Donald, in exchange for what may have been a life-saving sentence.

Christopher Watkins, accused of capital murder in the February 2003 deaths of Betty Council and Margo Donald, accepted a prison recommendation of life without parole Monday morning, dodging the possibility of the death penalty.

Although Watkins maintained his innocence at his arraignment hearing in July 2003, he pleaded guilty before Circuit Court Judge Robert Barr Monday, admitting that he shot Council and Donald, in exchange for what may have been a life-saving sentence.

In spite of his guilty plea, Watkins still faces a jury trial in the fall.

According to Barr, a "mini-trial" will be presented to a jury, who will determine his guilt or innocence.

"A defendant indicted for capital murder may plead guilty to the crime, but the State must prove to a jury the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.

If Watkins is found guilty, Barr will proceed with the sentencing phase at the end of the trial.

District Attorney Gary McAliley contends that Watkins faces strong evidence against him and that investigations revealed that the motive in the murders is drug-related.

"The state expects to prove that earlier in the day of Feb. 22, 2003 that one of the deceased women had been given $800, in the presence of the deceased and two other people, for the purchase of powder cocaine," he said. "When the cocaine was delivered to Watkins it was allegedly baking soda, and he was upset."

The deceased were allegedly shot multiple times with a 40-caliber Ruger pistol. The shootings occurred outside Donald's mobile home on Wilkerson Street.

According to McAliley, the families of Council and Donald agreed with the terms of the settlement agreement even though the families had hoped Watkins would be convicted of a capital offense and sentenced to death.

Barr said Watkins' trial would be the first trial heard during the fall term of criminal court.

Enterprise attorneys Paul Young, Joe Sawyer Jr., and Laura Wyrosdick represent Watkins.

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