Jackson’s body wasn’t found until more than a month later. Williams’ body was found in April 2016, when a resident of rural Shelby County was alerted to the grave by her dog.
After four days of witnesses and evidence brought by the prosecution, and around 2.5 hours Watkins spent on the stand himself, jurors were asked to decide whether Watkins’ actions constituted self-defense, or murder.
The crucial decision they had to make was whose account of Watkins’ and the teens’ brief, deadly interaction to believe. The defense claimed Watkins reasonably feared for his life when two unknown individuals – Jackson and Williams – rushed him with a gun. Prosecutors painted a different picture: one of a man “hunting” for someone to exact his revenge upon for a burglary at his home a week earlier.
Ultimately, the state’s argument prevailed and Watkins was found guilty on both counts of murder.
“The story that they charged him is just completely ridiculous,” deputy prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth, who took the lead for the state, said. “And I think the evidence that was presented, by way of where the blood of one young man was found, where the blood of the other man – I’ll use their names, Satori and Timmee – shows a completely different version of the events that the defendant testified to. So once his version, by way of the defendant’s testimony came in, and it wasn’t matching what the evidence showed, I think the jury could see through that. And by way of their verdict, I certainly believe they did.”
For Watkins, the verdict could mean as much as 130 years in prison. For the families of his victims, it meant the end of more than two years waiting for justice.
Amber Partlow, Williams’ mother, said she was glad the jury saw the case for what it was. And, she said, she hopes people now know her son wasn’t a criminal.
“They were wonderful kids and they stood up for people in their lives,” Partlow said. “In this, they are standing up in their deaths as well because no one will ever have to be tortured by this person again.”
Watkins, in his testimony, attempted to portray his actions as “for the good of the community.” Hollingsworth found that statement laughable in court. Afterward, though, he said it was a troubling thought.
“What’s the word? Scary. Vigilante,” Hollingsworth said. “I mean, he’s out hunting… I used that in my closing argument. I meant that. He’s out going after teenagers. These darn teenagers are causing problems. And for him to believe that he is out there helping the community by getting rid of, killing teenagers – I mean, that’s how I heard him say that. He didn’t use those words, but that’s the context. That’s pretty scary. That’s pretty scary. And thankfully he’s been convicted and he won’t be out there to do that to any other teenagers, or anybody else.”
Watkins was scheduled to appear for a sentencing hearing on March 23 at 2:30 p.m. He was also scheduled for a pretrial conference the same day on charges of criminal confinement and impersonating a law enforcement officer in a separate case.