Second-degree murder trial goes to jury on Monday

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The evidence has all been presented at the second-degree murder trial of a 27-year-old Ajax man charged in the death of his father, 65-year-old John David Watts, four years ago at the family cottage north of Kingston.

The case will be given to the eight men and four women on Robert J. Watts’ jury to decide at the start of next week in Kingston’s Superior Court of Justice.

On Friday, however, the younger Watts’ defence lawyer, David Crowe, and Crown prosecutor Jennifer Ferguson presented their closing arguments to jurors, summing up how the evidence fits into their respective theories of the case.

Crowe immediately told them that “here, it’s not a situation where I will be urging an acquittal on you.” His client he said, “is either guilty of murder or he’s guilty of manslaughter.”

Crowe is urging them to make a finding of manslaughter. Ferguson has asked them to make a finding of murder.

In order to conclude that Robert Watts is guilty of second-degree murder, however, Crowe told them they need to be convinced, beyond any reasonable doubt, that his client either intended to kill his father or intended to cause him bodily harm that could reasonably be expected to cause his father’s death, and was reckless in his actions.

Crowe suggested, based on some of the evidence, that Robert Watts didn’t have time to form the intent to commit murder, and when he later made statements to police that implied that Robert Watts intended his father’s death, Crowe asked the jurors to consider whether Robert Watts “is actually remembering or trying to remember what happened.”

Over five days, jurors and Superior Court Justice Gary Tranmer have heard testimony from a dozen witnesses, most of them police involved in Robert Watts’ initial arrest for speeding and then impaired driving; the subsequent homicide investigation after he spontaneously announced to an officer at the Cobourg OPP detachment that he’d killed his father; or they participated in the discovery of his father’s body and collection of evidence from the family’s cottage on Cranberry Lake, west of Seeley’s Bay.

Jurors have also heard testimony from forensic pathologist Dr. Christopher Milroy, who described the catastrophic injuries inflicted on John Watts’ head, face and neck and told them that, in his opinion, death would have occurred relatively quickly following all that physical trauma, which included a brain bleed. The doctor revealed that the elder Watts’ toxicology report showed he had a blood-alcohol concentration about two and a half times the legal limit to drive when he died.

Not having known the victim in life, Milroy said he couldn’t calculate exactly what effect that would have had on John Watts, but testified “he wouldn’t have been as sober as a judge,” and that level of intoxication would have slowed his physical reactions.

Additionally, jurors heard from Robert Watts’ older sister, Amy Anderson, and his mother, Barbara Watts, who both characterized the victim as a good man when sober but a man with a long-standing alcohol problem who was verbally disparaging toward all of his family members after his sixth beer, according to his daughter — as well as physically aggressive on occasion with his wife and daughter.

Mother and daughter testified about the relationship between Robert Watts and his father, which they suggested could be affectionate but was sometimes fraught, and about the onset of the younger man’s mental health problems in his mid-teens.

The jury has been told that Robert Watts had three relatively short admissions to mental health facilities prior to his father’s death on Sept. 17, 2015, and was jailed one year earlier, in late September 2014, after he assaulted both of his parents.

His mother testified that her son “was acting crazy-like,” that day, announced to her that he was Al Capone and pushed her into the freezer. She said he then followed her to her car, told her he hoped she wouldn’t call the police and, when she replied that she already had, he banged her head into the steering wheel and pulled her out of the vehicle. John Watts distracted him, by her account, allowing her to escape. But the jury has been told, through an agreed statement of fact, that Robert Watts then turned on his father, attacking him with fists and feet as the older man lay on the ground in a fetal position.

The jury has also heard multiple statements that Robert Watts made to police following his father’s death, including claims that he was acting in self-defence, that his father was “unpredictable” and that his father “started it.” He said more than once that he didn’t intend to kill his father, but at other times told officers that he stomped him because he didn’t want John Watts to suffer and “I wanted to make sure he was dead.”

Assistant Crown attorney Jennifer Ferguson argued on Friday that “the evidence shows that Robert Watts assaulted John Watts repeatedly,” on the night of Sept. 17, 2015, and with what she at one point described as a “degree of ferocity.” While he may not have intended to kill his father when he threw his first punch, she suggested to the jury: “When Robert Watts inflicted the last stomp on his father’s head, he intended to kill him.”

She also reminded jurors that he claimed more than once that he’d intended it.

She recounted, for example, what Watts told OPP breath technician Const. Phil Clarke, describing how “I gave him (John Watts) a few stomps to the head to make sure he was finished,” and compared it with what he later said during an interview with OPP Det. Sgt. John Kyle, when he told the officer: “All I remember was seeing him twitch on the floor and then I f—— stomped on him to knock him out, because he was suffering.”

Ferguson reminded them, as well, that when Kyle asked him how many times he stomped on his father, Watts responded, “Well I wanted to make sure he was dead. I didn’t want to see him suffer.”

Justice Gary Tranmer will complete his instructions to the jury on the law on Monday and their deliberations will follow immediately.

syanagisawa@postmedia.com