Watkins started trial Monday in Marion County Criminal Court 5 on two counts of murder. A jury of eight women and six men was empaneled to hear the case, which is expected to take about a week.
Marion County deputy prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth used his opening statements to paint a picture of Watkins as a man who was “hunting” for the people who broke into his house. On Dec. 18, 2015, Watkins’ home was burglarized, and several guns were stolen. That theft led Watkins on a quest, Hollingsworth said, for revenge and, ultimately, murder.
Hollingsworth also gave jurors a glimpse of the gory nature of the evidence in the case – including bloody trails leading from Watkins’ front yard and a severed finger found in his SUV.
“By the end of this trial,” Hollingsworth said, “you will know where Timmee’s body was dragged and you will know where Satori’s body was dragged.”
Confronted with the prospect of days’ worth of gruesome evidence, Watkins attorney, Jeff Neel, didn’t shy away from his own vivid description of how the boys died. In fact, he made it quite clear: Watkins killed them both with tomahawk blows to the head.
But, Neel argued, Watkins was acting in self-defense for himself and his family.
Because of the break-in at his home on Dec. 18, and a previous incident nine days earlier, Neel told jurors that Watkins had developed a nightly routine of patrolling his property. On Dec. 24, 2015, Watkins armed himself with a tactical tomahawk before going out on his rounds.
It was while he was patrolling his yard, Neel said, that Watkins was approached by two unknown people.
“Two individuals run up on him. One of them pulls a gun and points it at him. The other tries to grab him,” Neel said.
Neel said Watkins – already on edge because of the break-ins at his house – thought he was defending himself and his family when he drew his tomahawk and struck both individuals in the head multiple times.
Then, Neel said, Watkins panicked and decided to bury the bodies.
“Obviously, at this point Kevin was in shock,” Neel said. “He wasn’t thinking clearly.”
With both the prosecution and defense acknowledging Watkins’ role in the teens’ death, the trial is set to revolve around two competing images of Watkins: the unhinged bail bondsman who threatened a “bloodbath” if his stolen items weren’t returned, or the burglary victim trying to defend himself and his family.
Watkins’ defense has already shown a particular interest in questioning witnesses about a BB gun Williams was carrying at the time of his death. Of the five witnesses called during the morning of the first day, the defense used its cross-examination solely to ask about the gun – specifically questioning Williams’ girlfriend, Tashima Yarbrough, about statements she made that the gun could have appeared real in the dark.
Lead detective takes the stand
IMPD Homicide Det. Daniel Kepler wasn’t the first officer to arrive on scene – so by the time he arrived at Kevin Watkins’ house, he had an idea of what to expect.
“I already knew there were no victims on scene, but that there was a tremendous amount of evidence that would suggest the death of a person,” Kepler testified Monday.
Kepler was assigned as the lead homicide detective on the case. At the time, the disappearances of Satori Dionne Williams and Timmee Jackson weren’t yet confirmed homicides. But the blood trail leading around Watkins’ house suggested they might be soon.
Prosecutors dedicated most of the afternoon to alternating testimony from Kepler and Mark Wallace, a crime scene investigator for the Marion County Forensic Services Agency, known more commonly as Crime Lab.
Wallace walked jurors through a series of more than 130 photographs documenting pools of blood leading from the front of Watkins house into two diverging trails around back. He talked about the discovery of blood splatter on the outside wall of the house, and about the “biological tissue” – later identified as brain matter – found in the yard.
Then prosecutors called Kepler to the stand again to talk briefly about what was found when Watkins’ SUV was searched.
Kepler testified that he wanted to be there in person. At the time, he said, he thought one or both of the missing boys might be found in the SUV.
Neither Jackson nor Williams was ultimately found in the vehicle, but there was convincing evidence they had been: clothing matching what they’d been wearing, a severed finger, shards of bone and even more blood. Investigators also found an empty box for a tactical tomahawk.
The first day of testimony concluded with an 18-minute video showing someone – prosecutors contend it was Watkins – parking Watkins’ SUV at his bail bond business around 4 a.m. on Christmas Day 2015. The figure changes clothes before unloading several objects from the SUV, including one that appears to be a shovel. The figure is also shown discarding items into a dumpster later found to contained Williams’ BB gun and an empty package for a T-shirt. Kepler testified that a nearby gas station sold the very same brand and size of T-shirt – and that it also matched the shirt Watkins was wearing when police encountered him hours later.
Prosecutors said day two would go into more detail about the searches on Watkins’ vehicle and business, and also examine the investigation into a second man seen on video with Watkins at his bail bond business during the night.