GREELEY, Colo. (AP) — Frank Rzucek Sr. leaned forward in a Colorado courtroom, weeping with his face in his hands as his son-in-law, just feet away, was told Tuesday he could face the death penalty if convicted of killing Rzucek's daughter and two granddaughters.
Collecting himself, Rzucek glared as Christopher Watts was escorted back to jail.
The brief hearing came a day after court documents revealed that Watts told police that it was Rzucek's daughter, Shanann Watts, who strangled the kids after he told her he wanted to separate.
Watts told police that he flew into a rage and strangled his wife, took the three bodies to a remote oil site north of Denver, buried Shanann in a shallow grave and dumped the girls' bodies inside oil tanks.
Rzucek's silent angst dominated a routine court hearing in which Watts, wearing an orange jail suit and cuffed at the wrists and ankle, stoically answered, "Yes sir," as District Judge Marcelo Kopcow told him of the possible punishments if he's found guilty of killing Shanann, 34, Celeste, 3, and Bella, 4.
Shanann's brother, Frank Rzucek Jr., rubbed his father's shoulders and glared unflinchingly at Watts. A deputy stood between the men and the defendant.
Watts didn't enter pleas to three first-degree murder charges, two counts of killing a child under 12, one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body.
GPS coordinates provided by police suggest the bodies were found at an oil worksite on or near a sprawling ranch close to Roggen, a high plains town about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of the family's home in Frederick.
The oil site was not clearly visible Tuesday from the borders of the ranch, set in grazing land with sagebrush, yellow wildflowers and the occasional cottonwood tree. Gates to the property were closed, and the ranch owner did not immediately respond to a telephone message.
Watts worked as an operator for Anadarko Petroleum, a major Colorado oil and gas producer. He was fired Aug. 15, the day of his arrest.
Police first visited the Watts home on Aug. 13, after a friend asked officers to check on Shanann. Police searched the house and found the woman's cellphone stuffed inside a couch. Her purse was in the kitchen, and a suitcase was at the bottom of the stairs.
A detective spoke to Watts and learned about his plan to leave his wife. He told officers the conversation with Shanann was civil at first but that later "they were both upset and crying" and she planned to go to a friend's house, court papers said.
When she and the girls did not return home Aug. 14, investigators ramped up their efforts, with help from the FBI and Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Christopher Watts was interviewed by several local television stations, saying he missed his family.
In court papers, investigators said they learned that Watts was "actively involved in an affair with a co-worker," something he denied at first.
Separate documents filed by Watts' defense attorney last week said the girls' bodies were submerged in crude oil for four days before police found them late Thursday.
Prosecutors in Colorado have 60 days after someone is arraigned to say if they will seek the death penalty. No date has been set for Watts' arraignment. District Attorney Michael Rourke said Monday that it was too early to discuss if he will pursue capital punishment.
Shanann Watts, who's originally from North Carolina, had told family and friends she was expecting a boy. The judge said the charge of unlawful termination of pregnancy carries a prison term between 16 and 48 years.
Colorado is one of 12 states without a law broadly allowing for homicide charges in the violent death of fetuses. But state lawmakers in 2013 made the unlawful termination of pregnancy a felony.
Several efforts to change state law to allow murder charges in the death of a fetus have stalled amid disagreement about how to pass such a law without infringing on abortion rights.
As Boulder County district attorney, Stan Garnett remembers receiving dozens of calls and letters as his office prosecuted a woman accused of cutting open a pregnant woman's belly and removing her unborn child in 2015.
Garnett said a murder charge is impossible in Colorado unless prosecutors can show a fetus lived outside the mother before death.
A case involving the death of a fetus is inevitably controversial, but for prosecutors, "all that matters is what the law is and what the evidence is," Garnett said.
The Scottsbluff Police Department is continuing the investigation into the fire that took place at 810 Ferdinand Place in the early morning hours December 16, 2018. At this particular time it is believed that the fire was intentional.
The Scottsbluff Police Department is continuing to conduct interviews of persons that were near the scene at the time of the incident.
Grand Island, NE – KRGI News learned this morning that Grand Island Northwest public schools superintendent Matt Fisher sent the district employees an email notifying them that he has choose to resign as superintendent of Northwest. KRGI News obtained a copy of the email that is listed below. It is anticipated that Fisher will submit his letter of resignation to the school board this evening for the school board will gather for the February monthly meeting at 7pm. KRGI News Director Ryan Baker caught up with Fisher this afternoon to talk about his decision. Listen to the interview below.
--- Matt Fisher email to the district
After much prayerful consideration and soul searching over the past couple of months I have decided to submit my resignation as superintendent for the Northwest school district.
I became eligible for retirement prior to the start of this school year. I wanted to see the bond election through this past fall so I elected to stay on through this school year. Once the election was over I had intended to announce that I would be retiring. However, I have found that walking away from the great people that I have had the privilege to serve over the past seven years has been a very difficult decision.
After being back and forth multiple times, I have returned to what I came into this year believing was the best decision for myself and my family. I have truly cherished my time here in the Northwest school district. It will always be a great source of pride for me to be able to say that I got to be a part of this truly amazing district. Thank you to everyone who makes Northwest the special place that it is!
Ryan Baker with Matt Fisher
On July 9, 2018 the Furnas County Sheriff’s Office received two arrested warrants for Colby G. Carpenter, 33, of Arapahoe, Furnas County, Nebraska. The two warrants were each for one count of possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited person. The bond amount set on each warrant was $250,000 subject to 10%.
It’s another go around for Northwest Public School tax payers when it comes to the potential of adding a middle school to the district. 10 years ago a bond was brought to the votes for a middle school but was voted down. This time cost has increased, putting the bond up for voters at 11.5 million dollars. With most decisions when it comes to voting there are pluses and minuses, those that are in favor, and those that are not. Many are in favor of a middle school, but how it should happen is another issue.
According to the Northwest Middle School now website, for students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade are only offered curriculum options in tech, band, and choir. If a Class B size middle school was built or implemented 12 more extra options would be added.
GINW School Bond Special Report