TEXAS CONVICT WHO SAYS HE WOULD KILL AGAIN COULD BECOME
THE FIRST SERIAL KILLER TO BE SET FREE -- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY
He's not as infamous as some serial killers, but Coral Eugene Watts may have committed more murders than Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy combined. What's more, he could be a free man soon, even though he said he would kill again if released. Steve Kroft's report on Watts will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Oct. 17 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Authorities believe Watts may have killed close to 100 women, picking them randomly and leaving no evidence. But he's eligible for release because Houston prosecutors made an unprecedented plea bargain. Arrested for attempted murder and suspected of a number of killings for which no evidence existed to prosecute him, Watts was allowed to confess to 12 unsolved murders in Texas and plead guilty to "burglary with intent to commit murder" in exchange for immunity on the murders. The deal got more than a dozen "cold cases" off the books, and was supposed to get Watts off the street for 60 years, but twists in the Texas judicial system resulted in a 2006 release date, when he will have served just 24 years.
"Women are going to turn up murdered," says Andy Kahan, director of the Crime Victims Office for the Mayor of Houston. "This was a man that, by his own admission, stated that 'I am going to kill again if they ever release me.' You do not rehabilitate a serial killer."
Kahan is trying to keep Watts behind bars, hoping new evidence will turn up on other unsolved murders or that prosecutors in Michigan, where Watts once lived, will be able to convict him for an unsolved murder. Authorities say Watts is a suspect in 90 Michigan murders and was also willing to confess to 22 killings there in exchange for immunity, a deal Michigan prosecutors turned down. "We sat down with our prosecuting attorney and we all agreed that you just don't give immunity to somebody who's committed murder," says Paul Bunten, now the police chief of Saline, Mich. Bunten investigated the murders of three women in Ann Arbor in 1980 and says Watts nearly confessed to those murders, but ultimately stopped talking to authorities and then moved to Houston.
Bunten visited Watts in a Texas prison after his plea deal. "I said, 'Coral, I haven't got enough fingers and toes to count the number of people you've killed, have I?' And he looked around the room and said, 'There's not enough fingers and toes in this room,'" he tells Kroft. Bunten says there were four people in the room and he can't be sure Watts has killed 80 people, but says the killer may be holding back information for a strange reason. "I asked him if he confessed to everything down in Texas and he said 'no.' And I says, 'Why?' He made the statement to me that he does not want to go down in history as a mass murderer," says Bunten.
A task force was set up to try to link Watts to any unsolved Michigan murders and did connect him to a 1979 murder he will be prosecuted for next month. Watts has pleaded not guilty and there is no physical evidence, though an eyewitness will testify that the suspect he saw in a dark alley 25 years ago was Watts. But a judge has allowed the jury to hear about Watts' murder confessions; the prosecution is also counting on the testimony of Watts' last victim, Melinda Aguillar, whose cries for help led to his capture. Aguillar says Watts "was excited and hyper�excited that this was going to be fun," as he tied up her and her roommate and began to fill the bathtub with water. She escaped by throwing herself off a balcony while Watts unsuccessfully tried to drown her roommate. "I do [worry about Watts]. I can still remember when I had to identify him, just the way he looked at me was one of those looks [meaning] 'You just wait when I get out,'" she tells Kroft.