‘Sunday Morning Slasher': The Serial Killer Texas Almost Set Free
A known serial killer was set to be released from Texas prison in 2006, and had the state of Michigan not stepped in, he may have spent his final days a free man. How could this have happened? A series of missteps before and during his trial, of course, in addition to a now-repealed Texas law.
Carl "Coral" Eugene Watts, known as the Sunday Morning Slasher, was born in Killeen Texas in 1953. After suffering from a bout of Meningitis at 13, he was thought to have been rendered intellectually disabled, according to the psychiatric hospital that housed him after his first violent attack on a woman. However, a police officer who later questioned him found him to be intelligent and with an excellent memory. There does seem to be a consensus that Watts was delusional.
According to The Associated Press: "He told Houston police after his capture that he targeted women who had 'evil eyes'"
Prior to the Meningitis, Watts reportedly loved to hunt and skin rabbits as a young child and stalked female classmates at 12. His predilections for questionable behavior, coupled with the brain damage and the bullying he received for being behind in school, may have led him down such an incredibly dark path. Watts is believed to have committed his first murder by the time he turned 15.
Watts is known to have killed 14 women, but may have killed up to 100 across the states. Watts was difficult to catch, and it will remain difficult to know exactly what murders he was responsible for because he killed in different ways, in different jurisdictions. His crimes are not thought to have been sexually motivated, leaving out most of the potential to find DNA evidence.
Watts was active for eight years, kidnapping, torturing and killing primarily white women. One of his victims was Jeanne Clyne, a news reporter that he stabbed to death with a screwdriver on Halloween night.
Watts may have gone on to kill for many more years had he not been outsmarted and outmaneuvered by a Texas woman, Melinda Aguilar, in 1981. From MyPlainview:
Aguilar, who is 5 feet tall and said she weighed only 86 pounds at the time of the attack, described how she avoided death as Watts strangled her by letting her body go limp and pretending to be unconscious. Watts left her in the bedroom, and Aguilar said she could hear him give a little jump and clap his hands.
"I knew at that point he was enjoying what he was doing," she said.
With her hands still bound, Aguilar managed to open a sliding door and jump over the second-floor balcony railing.
After getting help, police were able to catch Watts fleeing the scene and connected him with other area murders. However, Texas prosecutors did not feel that they had enough evidence to successfully convict Watts. He was offered a plea deal: if he would give information about the other murders, he would be granted immunity for them. That deal must have seemed too good to be true, and Watts took it, pleading guilty instead only to burglary with an intent to kill.
That charge alone would have been enough to keep Watts in jail for 60 years. However, a crucial mistake was made. Watts had not been informed that the bathtub water he tried to drown his victim in was considered a "deadly weapon." Because of that, he was reclassified as a non-violent felon and was eligible for early release:
At the time, Texas law allowed nonviolent felons to have three days deducted from their sentences for every one day served as long as they were well behaved. Watts was a model prisoner, and had enough time deducted from his sentence that he could have been released as early as May 9, 2006. The law allowing early release was abolished after public outcry, but could not be applied retroactively according to the Texas Constitution.
Even though Texas had granted Watts immunity for 12 murders, which he described in detail, he was not immune from prosecution in other states. A Michigan man came forward and said he witnessed Watts murder a woman named Helen Dutcher. That may have been too flimsy to convict Watts in Michigan, but his defense was obliterated when a judge ruled the jury could hear Watts' confessions from Texas. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in September 2007.
Watts did serve that life sentence, although it was an incredibly short one. He died a couple of weeks later of prostate cancer.
If you would like to take a deeper dive into the twisted tale of Carl Eugene Watts, I recommend this excellent YouTube video: