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Chris Watts case: Prosecutors ask judge to block release of autopsies until trial

Posted at 5:13 PM, Sep 18, 2018

DENVER – Prosecutors in the Chris Watts murder case have asked the judge presiding over the case to keep the autopsy reports for Shanann, Celeste and Bella Watts private until the trial is underway, according to court documents filed Monday.

The Weld County Coroner’s Office and police have not released the autopsy reports to date, and in the filing, District Attorney Michael Rourke and two of his deputy district attorneys argue that the reports “will be critical evidence at trial.”

They argue in their motion that disclosing the coroner’s autopsy observations and findings “could result in tainting witnesses that have not yet been interviewed” and could impact future jurors in the case.

According to records released thus far, the bodies of Shanann and her two daughters were found on property belonging to Anadarko Petroleum Company. The bodies of Celeste and Bella were hidden inside an oil tank and Shanann’s was buried nearby in a shallow grave, the documents say.

Watts was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in their deaths, though he claimed that Shanann killed their daughters before he killed her at their home in Frederick. Police and prosecutors have not said officially how any of them died, though court records suggested they were strangled.

Prosecutors have to file the motion to stop the coroner’s reports from being released publicly because they are subject to Colorado’s Open Records Act. However, state statute allows for a judge to block the disclosure of such reports in cases the judge determines could cause “substantial injury to the public interest,” according to the recent filing.

There were several other motions and rulings made Monday in the case as well. Weld County District Court Judge denied Watts’ defense attorneys’ motion to investigate whether police or prosecutors leaked information about the case to the media.

His attorneys also filed a response to a request from prosecutors to obtain DNA evidence, buccal swabs and finger and palm prints in which they said that Watts “cannot make out the government’s need for buccal swabs, finger and palm prints, nor digital photographs.”

“Because of that,” his attorneys wrote, “Mr. Watts must conclude that the required seizure of Mr. Watts and the subsequent search of his person are unconstitutional …”

It’s unclear how soon a judge might rule on the latest motion from prosecutors. Watts remains jailed in Weld County as he awaits a status conference set for Nov. 19.