Clark County

Watkinses found guilty of murder

WINCHESTER — As the jury filed into the courtroom Tuesday afternoon, Rachel Adams reached into a large, yellow cloth bag at her feet and retrieved a small photo album.

Tucked inside were pictures of Adams' daughter, Michaela Watkins, a smiling girl who wore barrettes in her blond hair and dresses with flowers and lace.

Adams clutched the collection of studio portraits and candid moments as Special Circuit Judge Gary Payne read the jury's verdict to the courtroom: Guilty.

A jury of eight women and four men ruled that Patrick and Joy Watkins, Adams' ex-husband and his wife, were guilty of murdering 10-year-old Michaela.

Michaela's body was found severely bruised and burned on March 11, 2007, at the Watkinses' apartment.

Prosecutors argued throughout the five-day trial in Clark Circuit Court that Patrick and Joy Watkins beat Michaela and then held the girl in a bathtub full of scalding water.

According to testimony, Michaela had a total of 77 injuries — 35 of which were on her head. She had bite marks behind her ear and on her ankle. And a four-inch-long bruise ran across her side that concealed the five crushed ribs that led to her death.

Michaela also had skin-peeling burns on the backs of her legs and buttocks.

Patrick Watkins, who is Michaela's father, and Joy Watkins have repeatedly denied responsibility for the girl's death. The couple told police that Michaela burned herself in the bathtub, and they said her death was an accident.

Joy Watkins acknowledged that she got into a "tussle" with the girl the day before she died, but that she didn't deliver the fatal blow. Patrick Watkins said Michaela fell down the 10 steps in their apartment and died after she went to lie down. Scott West, attorney for Patrick Watkins, later said: "We know for sure that Michaela Watkins didn't fall down the steps. Patrick Watkins lied about that."

During closing arguments, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Charles Johnson tried to illustrate to the jury how he thought Michaela died. He brandished a long piece of wood that appeared to be a table leg. Johnson said the object, found under the back passenger seat of the Watkinses' car, delivered a bone-crushing blow to Michaela's side.

Johnson repeatedly swung the object to illustrate his point. Adams quietly sobbed each time Johnson raised the wooden stick.

"In my whole life, I have never seen anyone treated like these two treated Michaela," Johnson said.

West and Tim Despotes, attorney for Joy Watkins, argued that their clients were not responsible for Michaela's fatal injuries. They argued that the couple were guilty of not seeking medical attention when Michaela needed it.

"He didn't do what he should have done, but it's not murder," West said of his client.

It took the jurors an hour and a half to render the verdict. Patrick and Joy Watkins stared straight ahead as Payne read the verdict. They didn't look at each other or anyone else. They showed little emotion.

Rachel Adams, still holding the pictures of her daughter, began to cry.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, testimony revealed that the Watkinses had prior convictions.

Patrick Watkins had been convicted of third-degree burglary and two counts of flagrant non-support. Joy Watkins had been convicted of disorderly conduct.

Defense attorneys argued for the minimum 20-year sentence for their clients. They said the couple did care about Michaela, but made mistakes at the end of her life.

"These people did try," Despotes said, "Until that fateful weekend that the train went off the tracks."

But Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Heidi Engel urged the jury to "show no mercy."

"These two people should never see the light of day," she said.

It took the jury about 40 minutes to recommend that both Patrick and Joy Watkins receive a life sentence with the possibility of parole in 20 years. They will appear in court Nov. 9 for formal sentencing.

Adams yelled and threw up her hands when she heard Payne read the sentence.

"Yes!" she said.

As the judge began to dismiss the jurors, Adams held up the small photo album. She leaned in and whispered: "There you go, baby girl."