Clark County

Police: Couple denied responsibility in girl's death

WINCHESTER — The day before Michaela Watkins died, the 10-year-old and her stepmother got into a "tussle" on the kitchen floor.

Michaela tried to claw Joy Watkins' face. The two ended up on the floor, the woman on top of the 77-pound girl who was just shy of 5 feet tall. She backhanded Michaela twice, hard enough to leave bruises on the child's face. Michaela bit her stepmother. Joy Watkins bit the girl behind the ear.

But Joy Watkins maintained that she was not responsible for the injuries that resulted in Michaela's death on March 11, 2007.

"There was nothing that happened to her that I did," Joy Watkins told police.

That account, a snippet of video footage of Joy Watkins' interview with Winchester police Detective Harold Jones, was shown by prosecutors Wednesday, the second day of Patrick and Joy Watkins' murder trial. The couple have pleaded not guilty in the case.

Prosecutors also showed the jury footage of Jones' interview with Patrick Watkins, Michaela's father. The interviews, conducted March 11 and 12, 2007, were the first opportunity for the jury to hear the Watkinses' side of the story.

The couple's accounts sometimes contradicted each other.

According to the interview, on March 10, 2007, Patrick Watkins sent Michaela upstairs to the bathroom after the girl urinated on herself.

"Next thing I know, I hear water splashing everywhere and her squawking," he told Jones.

Patrick Watkins said they discovered Michaela sitting in steaming bath water. They tried to get the girl to stand up, but she fell and hit her head at least twice in the bathroom.

The couple discovered Michaela had burns on her feet and ankles after the girl made it downstairs. Joy Watkins covered the wounds with first-aid cream and gauze.

The couple said Michaela seemed fine later that night; she watched television with them, ate a sandwich, chips and had an apple for dinner.

The next day, the Watkinses prepared Michaela and their three other children for a trip to the Red River Gorge. During the car ride, Joy Watkins said, Michaela would act "perfectly fine one minute," then her eyes would roll back in her head and she would "flop over" on her siblings.

Joy Watkins said they initially thought "Michaela was trying to pull stunts to keep us from going hiking."

The couple disagrees on what happened next.

Patrick Watkins told Jones that when he touched her on the way home, Michaela's hands were like ice, but her belly was warm. He said she fell down 10 steps inside their apartment, which caused bruising that covered her body. Patrick Watkins said Michaela seemed relatively fine after the fall.

"I want to lay down, Daddy," he said his daughter told him.

Less than an hour later, Patrick Watkins said, he discovered Michaela dead in her room.

But Joy Watkins said Michaela was dead on the drive home from the gorge.

She and her husband repeatedly asked each other, "Is she alive?" Joy Watkins told the detective. "We were literally in shock," she said.

Joy Watkins, who said she is a certified nurse's aide, said she knew Michaela needed medical attention that morning. But her husband was "panicky and scared" because officials might think she was responsible for all of Michaela's injuries.

"It's easy to lay the blame on the freaking stepparent," Watkins told Jones.

The couple also disagreed on who made it to the bathroom first when the hot water scalded Michaela.

Earlier Wednesday, medical examiner Dr. Cristin Rolf testified that most of Michaela's injuries happened within 36 hours of her death. The girl had approximately 35 injuries to her head, including bruises on her eyeballs, and bruises and scrapes all over her body.

Michaela also had bite marks behind her ear and on her ankle. Joy Watkins told police she had bitten Michaela a few weeks before her death after the girl kicked her.

A severe chest injury was the primary cause of Michaela's death. Five of her ribs were crushed, partially causing her left lung to collapse, Rolf said. There was also a large amount of hemorrhaging in the area.

"Every breath that a person takes with this injury is going to be painful," she said.

Rolf said the chest injury was caused by "one quick, hard blow" from a blunt object.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Friday in Clark Circuit Court.

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