Citing the “critical” nature of the the information contained within them, Colorado prosecutors moved this week to withhold the autopsies conducted in the triple homicide of Shan’ann Watts and her two young daughters, PEOPLE confirms.
The slayings, allegedly at the hands of Chris Watts, Shan’ann’s husband of nearly six years, attracted almost instant national attention — but the precise nature of the killings has remain unconfirmed.
In a motion filed Monday, prosecutors noted much the same in asking the judge to keep the autopsies from public view until Chris’ trial.
“The observations and findings contained in the coroner’s autopsy report will be critical evidence at trial,” prosecutors argued. “The disclosure of this information to the public prior to trial could result in tainting witnesses that have not yet been interviewed and impacting future jurors.”
In a brief response on Friday, Chris’ defense said that it has yet to receive copies of the autopsies and so was unable to take a position on whether they should be made secret.
“Failure to turn over this evidence violates due process of law, undermines the fundamental fairness of the proceedings, makes counsel’s effective assistance impossible, and continues to put Mr. Watts on unequal footing with the government,” his attorney said.
Previous defense filings in the case have suggested the Watts children, 3-year-old Celeste and 4-year-old Bella, may have been strangled.
According to Chris’ arrest affidavit, he allegedly confessed to police that he had strangled Shan’ann, then 15 weeks pregnant with their son, but only after witnessing her strangle Celeste, with Bella lying lifeless nearby.
Chris was arrested late on Aug. 15 and subsequently charged with first-degree murder in all three deaths, among other crimes. His wife and daughters were reported missing on Aug. 13, not long after Shan’ann returned from a work trip in Arizona.
A day after Chris was taken into custody, authorities announced they had discovered the bodies of Shan’ann, Bella and Celeste at an oil site owned by Chris’ former employer. (He was fired on Aug. 15.)
The autopsies are not the only disputed issue in the case as it winds its way toward a trial.
Prosecutors have recently moved the judge to compel Chris to give up copies of his fingerprints, impressions of his feet and a DNA swab in order to assist in their testing of collected evidence.
His defense has objected, describing the request as overly vague and lacking established probable cause.
The judge has yet to rule on either issue.
Chris remains behind bars and has not entered a plea. His public defender is barred from discussing the case.
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