GREELEY, Colorado — A man who was suspected of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters in August has pleaded guilty in a deal that will allow him to avoid the death penalty.
Chris Watts, 33, appeared in court Tuesday for a status hearing two weeks before he was set to appear at a Nov. 19 status conference in the case.
He pleaded guilty Tuesday to all nine counts he was originally charged with in August: three counts of first-degree murder after deliberation, two counts of first-degree murder – victim under 12/position of trust, one count of first-degree unlawful termination of a pregnancy, and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body.
In court Tuesday, Watts was wearing a bulletproof vest and wept between pleas. Shanann's family was sitting in the front row of the courtroom as Watts pleaded guilty.
Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said at a news conference that followed the plea hearing that he went to North Carolina to speak with the Rzucek family -- Shanann's family -- in order to talk about the possibilities of prosecution in the case. That came after Watts' attorneys approached Rourke and prosecutors about a deal, Rourke said.
Rourke said he explained the "extraordinary delays" that are seen in current death penalty cases, including the Nathan Dunlap case, and that the Rzuceks wanted a quicker resolution in the case.
"That, to me, was the most important consideration in deciding how to proceed with this case," Rourke said.
Rourke blamed Gov. John Hickenlooper for his stance on the death penalty, which Hickenlooper has refused to carry out while he is in office, as part of the reason for going to North Carolina to discuss the plea options with Shanann's family.
The Rzuceks also appeared at the news conference with Rourke and other law enforcement agencies but did not speak. Rourke said he was "saddened" he had to meet the Rzucek family under the circumstances of their daughter's and granddaughters' deaths and said he would give the family time to decide how they wanted to proceed with Watts' sentencing.
Police arrested Watts late on the night of Aug. 15 in the alleged killings of his pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, and their young daughters Celeste and Bella. After Watts initially denied that he killed them, police documents said that he admitted to doing so.
Prosecutors said they believed Watts killed the three inside the family’s home in Frederick. The affidavit released in August confirmed details KMGH television station in Denver had previously reported, citing high-ranking sources, that Shanann’s body was buried in a shallow grave at the site and that the bodies of Celeste and Bella were put inside of oil and gas tanks.
According to an arrest affidavit, Chris was having an affair. He also claimed that he was trying to separate from Shanann the morning of the alleged murders and that she tried to strangle their daughters when he told her of his intentions.
Watts originally faced the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. The death penalty was taken off the table as part of the deal. The Weld County District Attorney's Office said the deal was made with the agreement of Shanann's family.
Rourke said at the afternoon news conference that Watts was a liar and that he had falsely tried to shine the spotlight on Shanann for allegedly killing their daughters. "The spotlight shines directly where it belongs: on him," he said, adding that prosecutors did not believe that Watts could truly give them a truthful and accurate statement.
Rourke said autopsy reports for Shanann and her daughters could be unsealed after the plea deal, but said they had not been unsealed as of Tuesday afternoon.
"He deserves a life sentence for each and every act on top of each other," Rourke said. "It was important that each of those beautiful human beings was respected in that sentence."
Watts is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday, Nov. 19.