During his manslaughter trial Thursday for the drunken shooting of his 10-year-old daughter, Duke Watrous told jurors he doesn't deserve probation. But he is asking for a probated sentence for the good of his four other children, he said. Duke Watrous
"My daughter died because of my poor choices and because of my actions," he testified. "I don't deserve [probation], but I need it for my kids."
Both the state and the defense rested their cases at about 5:30 p.m., and final arguments were set to begin at 9 a.m. today. Watrous entered guilty pleas Monday on charges of manslaughter, injury to a child and tampering with evidence.
The maximum sentence Watrous could receive for manslaughter is 20 years. If he were assessed a sentence of 10 years or less, he could receive probation. He could be sentenced to additional time in prison on the other charges.
He had been free on $100,000 bail but was taken into custody after the plea.
On Christmas Eve 2009, Watrous killed his daughter Ashley when he accidentally fired a .44-caliber Magnum revolver at her face.
He testified that he went home and cleaned up Ashley's blood and brain matter after being released from jail.
"The idea of one of my brothers having to clean that up - I had to clean it up," he said.
Watrous told the jury that he considered committing suicide but believed that doing so would further hurt his children.
After the accident, Watrous' parental rights to his two other children with Brandy Washburn were terminated. He testified that since the shooting he has not seen the son and daughter he had with his second wife, Aude Freeman. The pair are engaged in a fierce custody battle. Ashley Watrous
Watrous was one of a number of state and defense witnesses, including five experts in various social work and psychotherapy fields, who testified about his mental and emotional states, his compliance or noncompliance with court orders in several custody proceedings and his fitness as a parent. Opinions varied according to whether they were state's or defense witnesses.
He testified that his father had a doctorate in psychology but never used the degree. His father ran horse farms in various locations as Watrous, his sister and his eight brothers were growing up, he said.
The defendant said he wasn't clear on the marital arrangements among his father, his mother and her sister, who bore four of the children. He did remember having a happy childhood, he said, though he had no friends outside the family. His father thought of his family as a "kingdom," Watrous said, and was angry when Watrous left to be on his own.
He said Washburn was his first girlfriend and they never legally married. He also said her mother, who lived with them, once caused him to be arrested. He said the mother hit her daughter in the face with a piece of fruit in a sock and then claimed that he hit her; that case was dropped.
Washburn eventually absconded with their two small children, and he didn't see them for two years. After he finally found them, he gained custody of the children. A year before Ashley's death, Washburn bore him another daughter and allowed him primary custody of her as well.
Watrous testified that he and Freeman moved in together about three weeks after they met on the side of a highway when she had car trouble. She lied to him about being already married, he said, but she eventually divorced that man and they married. After they had two children together, she left him for the married pastor of her church.
Testimony Thursday was complicated, as it dealt with numerous custody hearings involving children with both women. Several court-appointed professionals performed tests and assessments and differed on their conclusions about Watrous.
Brothers Desmond, Devon, Delorean and Divenchy Watrous all testified to being at Duke Watrous' house on Naylor Road in Oak Point that Christmas Eve. All of them testified that they did not see him drinking and that he did not appear to be intoxicated. But Duke Watrous said "[I] had a beer in my hand all afternoon."
Duke Watrous said he remembers when the last brother left. The next thing he remembers is being at the Oak Point police station five hours later being questioned about shooting Ashley.
"I thought there must be some way I could wake up and this not be true," he said.
Prosecutor Rick Daniel cross-examined Duke Watrous. He elicited the last moment he could remember before the shooting - about 6:30 p.m. - and the first moment he could remember afterward - about 11:30 p.m. He said he has no memory of getting out a shotgun and a handgun, or of poking Ashley in the chest with the shotgun and rubbing it on her cheek. He also said he has no memory of pointing the handgun at her and at his own face and ultimately pulling the trigger. But he knows it happened, because he watched a video taken by a surveillance camera he had installed in his front hallway.
"Do you remember the interrogation?" Daniel asked.
Watrous said he did.
"And do you remember that at no time did you ever tell them that you couldn't remember what happened? You don't want to remember because you don't want to answer my questions, do you?" Daniel asked.
Watrous often described his actions as inappropriate. He had believed himself to be an excellent parent, he said. He did not believe he had an alcohol problem. But after watching his actions that night on the video, he said, he decided that he was not a good parent and he did have a problem with alcohol. He does not drink now, he testified.
He admitted to hearing himself tell his dying daughter that he was cleaning the gun and it went off "and hit my awesome daughter." But he doesn't remember saying that, he said, and it was inappropriate.
"Now look that jury in the eye and tell them you deserve probation," Daniel thundered at Watrous.
"I don't deserve probation," he said. "But I'm still asking for it. I hate that person [in the video]. I wish I could kill that person."
DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .