In the days and weeks before Shanann Watts was strangled to death by husband Chris Watts, the 34-year-old pregnant mother of two gave him books on self-help and relationship counseling in hopes of saving their crumbling relationship.
But he ignored them, even throwing one “in the garbage,” because he had already mentally checked out of the marriage, Weld County, Colorado, District Attorney Michael Rourke told the court at Chris’ sentencing hearing on Monday.
The 33-year-old wanted a new life with his new girlfriend — and his wife and young daughters were not going to stop him, Rourke told the judge.
“His motive was simple, your honor,” Rourke said in Weld County District Court, as Chris sat behind him, looking down and noticeably shaking his leg during most of the hearing.
“He had a desire for a fresh start: to begin a relationship with a new love that overpowered all decency and feelings for his wife, his daughters and his unborn son,” Rourke said.
The judge then sentenced Chris to life in prison without parole, the maximum penalty under a plea agreement with prosecutors which saw him admit his crimes in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.
On Nov. 6, Chris pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the August slayings of Shanann, who was then 15 weeks pregnant with a son to be named Niko, and daughters Bella and Celeste. Chris also admitted to multiple counts of tampering with a dead body and unlawful termination of a pregnancy.
After his arrest in August, two days after the murders, authorities revealed that Chris was having an affair with a woman from his work, who later identified herself as Nichol Kessinger.
Kessinger said in an interview with the Denver Post that he lied to her by saying he was in the process of getting divorced.
Until Monday, Rourke had never detailed exactly what Chris was doing the summer before he strangled Shanann and smothered Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3.
While Rourke stressed that no one will ever fully know why Chris “annihilated” his entire family, the prosecutor brought the court through a partial timeline of events leading up to the slayings.
Over the summer, Shanann took her daughters to North Carolina to spend time with her parents and brother for about six weeks. She returned home briefly in early August before traveling to Arizona for a work trip that ended early on Aug. 13, when she and the girls were killed.
During this period, Shanann was working to salvage her relationship with Chris — whom she had first connected with amid a health struggle. (Her family said she had lupus.) “He only knew me … at my worst. And he accepted me,” she shared on Facebook earlier this year.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
At the same time that Shanann was trying to see what could be saved between them, Chris was continuing his affair, according to authorities. Kessinger told the Post that she and Chris met at the end of June and their relationship turned physical in July. Shanann had become pregnant around the end of April.
“While Shanann texted the defendant over and over again in the days and weeks leading up to her death attempting to save her marriage, the defendant secreted pictures of his girlfriend into his phone and searched and texted her at all hours of the night,” Rourke said in court on Monday.
Shanann spent those six weeks in North Carolina with her family caring for her daughters and still working at her part-time sales job.
Chris, on the other hand, spent his time “searching the internet for secluded vacation spots to take his new love — and researching jewelry,” Rourke said.
Not only that, he told the court, Chris “went to car museums in the sand dunes with his new girlfriend,” while his wife and daughters were away.
“The stark contrast between the subjects of their internet and text content is absolutely stunning,” Rourke said.
So were the meticulous steps Chris took to cover his tracks after the murders, Rourke told the court.
The morning after he killed his family and disposed of their bodies at an oil work site owned by his then-employer, Chris called the school the girls were set to attend, saying they would no longer be coming, Rourke said. It was an apparent effort to prevent police from learning about the deaths (which was quickly undone once Shanann’s friend reported her missing the morning of Aug. 13 when she missed a doctor’s appointment).
In addition to lying about his children to their school, Chris “contacted a Realtor to discuss the selling of his house,” Rourke said. “He texted with his girlfriend about their future.”
Nichol told the Post she realized Chris was lying to her when his family disappeared and she learned Shanann had been pregnant. On Aug. 15, she called the authorities. Chris was arrested that night.
For all the information learned about Chris’ infidelity, however, “None of this answers the questions about why,” Rourke said on Monday.
“If he was this happy and wanted a new start — get a divorce. You don’t annihilate your family and throw them away like garbage.” he said. “Why did Niko, Celeste, Bella and Shanann have to lose their lives in order for him to get what he wanted?”