STUART, Fla. -- A man has been
sentenced to die for sexually assaulting and strangling three women
during a 10-week period in 2004.
Circuit Judge Larry Schack also
ordered Monday that Eugene Wayman McWatters Jr., 28, serve three
consecutive life prison terms for raping the women. McWatters also needs
to be chemically castrated if he meets the medical criteria, Schack said.
McWatters was convicted by a jury
Sept. 28 of first-degree murder and sexual battery.
"The joke you thought you were
playing is now on you," said Laura Crosby Dittmer, whose mother, Jackie
Bradley, was McWatters' first victim.
Prosecutor Tom Bakkedahl called
McWatters a coward for refusing to speak at the sentencing.
"This defendant is the worst of the
worst," Bakkedahl said.
A telephone call placed to
McWatters' attorneys, Robert Udell and Rusty Akins, was not immediately
returned Tuesday morning.
Bradley, Christal Wiggins and
Carrie Caughey were found unclothed from the waist down and strangled.
McWatters confessed to the murders
in a statement recorded by police, telling them that he was having sex
with each of the women and "lost it" before killing them.
Man cries after Stuart jury
convicts him of killing 3 women
September 30, 2006
STUART -- It took a Martin County
jury about two hours on Thursday to find Eugene Wayman McWatters Jr.
guilty of the "Salerno Strangler" murders.
The jury found McWatters guilty of
three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of sexual battery
in the 2004 deaths of Jacqueline Bradley, 43, Christal Wiggins, 29, and
Carrie Caughey, 18.
Dressed in navy slacks and a pale
yellow checkered shirt with shackles around his ankles, McWatters, 28,
cried when the verdict was read. His family, including his mother, and
his pregnant sister, whose baby's due date is today, sat behind him.
After hearing closing arguments
Wednesday, the jurors deliberated for about five hours before going home
for the evening about 6 p.m. The 12-person jury consisting of 10 men and
two women began deliberating again at 8:40 a.m. today and reached a
verdict at 11 a.m.
The prosecutors and defense rested
their cases Monday afternoon -- the defense without calling a single
Throughout six days of testimony,
prosecutors painted McWatters as a calculating killer who lured Bradley,
Wiggins and Caughey to their deaths.
Bradley was murdered on or about
March 28, 2004. Witnesses from the Golden Gate homeless camp where she
lived said McWatters promised her a shower and that they watched the two
walk away together toward a Port Salerno home owned by Jessica Aleman,
McWatters' sister. Bradley's strangled body was found March 31 in a
canal about 100 feet from the house.
Wiggins and Caughey were murdered
within hours of each other on May 31. Witnesses at a house party
McWatters and Wiggins attended said they last saw the two together.
Later in the evening, McWatters
returned to the house without Wiggins, sweating, "hyped up," and
requesting cocaine, according to a witness deposition.
Although Wiggins was murdered
second, her body was the last to be discovered. It was found on June 7.
A Martin County Sheriff's Office detective searching for clues to the
Caughey murder came across her body in a wooded area near a retention
pond about three miles from where Bradley's body was found.
Caughey was last seen alive walking
down Lincoln Street in Port Salerno with McWatters trailing behind on a
bicycle, calling her name. A witness said he had dropped her off behind
a Lil' Saints convenience store after they unsuccessfully tried to buy
crack cocaine. On June 3, a family found her body in the woods across
the pond from the Wiggins crime scene.
All three women were found
unclothed from the waist down with their shirts jammed up into their
armpit area, bras pushed over their breasts. The disarray of the victims'
clothes and the fact that they were strangled led a forensic pathologist
to conclude they were sexually assaulted and then murdered.
Before he confessed, detectives
tried to connect McWatters to the crimes through a foot-deep hole next
to Caughey's body. Because of the position of her body, detectives
believed the killer had murdered her, picked her up, tripped in the hole
and then dropped her. Leaving the body as it fell, the murderer then
used tree branches to cover it up.
During the June 23 confession,
McWatters relayed varying stories about how he fractured his ankle
around the time of the murders.
He first told detectives he injured
his leg in an all-terrain vehicle accident, but when asked for the names
of the people he was with, McWatters recanted and said a car had run
over his foot during a drug deal.
"... If you told us the truth about
smoking rock, why would you lie to us about how your leg got broken?"
Detective Brian Bergen asked in a recorded conversation with McWatters.
"I don't know," McWatters said.
"'Cause (expletive), story kinda got confused in my head. 'Cause trying
to make up a story to tell everybody else and then (expletive) tellin'
you," McWatters said. "In between the two stories and (expletive), like
I told ya man, I'm confused."
McWatters eventually admitted to
killing the three women in the recordings. He said he was in the process
of having sex with each of them when he "lost it."
Because of the bodies' extensive
state of decomposition, no concrete forensic evidence was collected from
any of the crime scenes. Wiggins' mother whimpered softly when Bakkedahl
projected pictures of her body on a screen during his closing arguments
The jury will next hear attorney
arguments in the penalty phase of the trial and then recommend a
sentence. Martin County Circuit Judge Larry Schack must ultimately
decide whether McWatters will receive the death penalty.
The defense plans to have Aleman,
Dr. Michael C. Riordan and a former teacher of McWatters' testify on his
behalf during the penalty phase, defense attorney Bob Udell said today.
The defense also will play audio
from a recorded jailhouse telephone conversation between McWatters and
his mother, Jacqueline Wayman.
McWatters erupts, denies killing
in rage over prostitution
September 30, 2006
STUART — The suggestion that he
raped and strangled three women because he was angry at his ex-girlfriend
and mother for prostituting themselves brought derisive laughter and a
curse from Eugene McWatters during closing arguments in his triple-murder
"That's bull(expletive)!" McWatters
blurted from the defense table where he has sat during his three-week
trial in Martin Circuit Court.
The outburst came after prosecutor
Tom Bakkedahl quoted from a statement McWatters gave to detectives in
which he said he didn't believe in paying for sex and that he had been
hurt badly by women who sold themselves for drugs or money.
"It's disgusting that they could do
that to themselves," he said in a June 2004 statement after his arrest
on an unrelated sexual battery charge that was later dropped.
Jurors began deliberations
Wednesday and will resume this morning in the case in which McWatters,
28, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts
of sexual battery in the deaths of three women in Golden Gate and Port
Carrie Caughey, 18, Christal
Wiggins, 29, and Jackie Bradley, 43, were killed in 2004.
If McWatters is convicted of any of
the murder charges, a second phase of the trial will determine if the
12-member jury recommends life or death.
Bakkedahl, who has a reputation for
compelling closing arguments, told jurors they can find first-degree
murder in two ways.
If they find the women were raped,
it is considered first-degree felony murder. If the killings were
planned, even for the briefest of periods, they would qualify as first-degree
"The cause of death proves
premeditation," Bakkedahl said, noting testimony from experts that it
takes at least four minutes to kill a person with strangulation, and
that's if they don't struggle.
To illustrate his point, he stood
in front of the defense table, extended his hands as if choking an
invisible throat and held the position for a minute he timed by the
"One minute," he said after 60
seconds of intense silence in the crowded courtroom. "One minute. You
want me to stand there for three more minutes? Is that premeditation?"
As to the sexual battery charge,
defense attorney Rusty Akins argued there was no evidence of force and
it was possible the women, two of whom were known to trade sex for drugs
or money, had consensual sex and were killed later.
But Bakkedahl pointed to McWatters'
statement that he was having face-to-face sex with the women when they
died and argued if there was consent, it disappeared when he put his
hands around their throats.
Akins argued McWatters gave a false
confession based on information he gleaned from his many contacts with
detectives and witnesses over the two-month investigation of what became
known as the Salerno Strangler case.
And he questioned the reliability
of the memories of the prosecution witnesses, many of whom admitted they
were drinking or using drugs during the times they said they saw
McWatters with the victims.
"These witnesses didn't come in and
tell you they were baking cookies," Akins said.
Less than three hours into
deliberations, the jury asked to listen to the confession statement with
the aid of prepared transcripts that were used in the trial to help
decipher the poor audio quality, but the law doesn't allow use of
transcripts during deliberations.
Instead, court officials will try
to find a better sound system for jurors to use in replaying the
The jury foreman also disclosed
that the panel had begun filling out the verdict form, although it had
not reached a verdict. The form was ordered sealed until deliberations
resume this morning.
Akins said he had never heard of a
jury filling in a verdict piecemeal in more than 20 years of practicing
Part of the final argument from the
defense came from co-counsel Bob Udell, who repeated his suggestion from
the start of the trial that McWatters may have confessed because he
wanted to seem important, to be a somebody.
Bakkedahl turned the comment around
to end his argument.
"He just wanted to be somebody.
He's somebody now," Bakkedahl said. "He's a murderer, and he's a rapist."
Attorneys offer conflicting
views in 'Salerno Strangler' case
September 19, 2006
STUART — To prosecutors, he was a
calculating murderer, a hyped-up drug addict, a cunning predator of
To the defense, he was an abandoned
child, a high school drop-out, an informer with aspirations of helping
to catch a serial killer — and ended up getting wrongly arrested for the
Those were the contrasting images
painted Monday morning during opening statements in the trial of alleged
"Salerno Strangler" Eugene Wayman McWatters Jr., accused of killing
three women in the summer of 2004.
Until a bomb threat put a halt to
court proceedings, the triple murder trial was off to a steady clip
after a week of jury selection.
By 10 a.m., when the threat was
announced, the prosecution and defense had addressed the jury and the
defense was about to cross- examine the prosecution's first witness,
Thomas Field, a friend of one of victim Jacqueline Clark Bradley who
told jurors Bradley was with McWatters the last time he saw her alive.
In her statements to the jury,
prosecutor Erin Kirkwood described McWatters as a social deviant who
knew how to dispose of DNA from watching the CourtTV program "Forensic
Files," and who destroyed physical evidence at each of the three crime
"We're not going to have a CSI
moment in this trial," she said, referring to the popular crime
investigation TV show.
Any DNA on Bradley's body was lost
when it was submerged in a Port Salerno drainage canal in March 2004,
and the bodies of both Carrie Ann Caughey and Christal Dawn Wiggins were
highly decomposed when they were found near a Port Salerno lake on June
3 and June 7, 2004.
He lured each woman with a promise,
Kirkwood said: crack cocaine for Caughey and Wiggins; a shower for the
homeless Bradley. Instead of keeping his end of the bargain, Kirkwood
said, McWatters, now 28, raped and strangled the three women, pushed
their bras above their breasts and attempted to hide the bodies.
Yet the crux of the prosecution's
evidence and its potential downfall, defense attorney Bob Udell told the
jurors, is McWatters' confession.
After he was arrested on an
unrelated sexual battery charge on June 23, 2004, McWatters, now 28,
told detectives he had sex with each of the three murder victims, "lost
it" and was responsible for their deaths.
But Udell said his client admitted
to the crimes only after detectives placed McWatters in an evidence room
jam-packed with "Salerno Strangler" evidence. That gave McWatters —
under the influence of marijuana and alcohol — an opportunity to learn
things only the killer would otherwise know, Udell said.
Kirkwood acknowledged detectives
deliberately placed McWatters in the room, but said it was to force him
to "stew" about the crimes and their victims. Confronting his actions,
she said, induced McWatters to confess out of guilt.
Udell, who wondered aloud why none
of detectives' many conversations with McWatters were recorded until
after he actually confessed, said his client was eager to speak about
the crimes because, after a lifetime marred by violence, drug use and
run-ins with the law, he wanted to be helpful.
"Eugene was one of those people who
wanted to be somebody because he was told he was worthless," Udell said.
Prosecutors Say Accused Serial Killer Confessed To Deaths
July 14, 2004
Prosecutors said Wednesday that a man accused of strangling three women
has confessed to their killings.
Authorities released surveillance video Tuesday of Eugene McWatters, who
is suspected in the serial killer deaths of three Port Salerno women.
shows McWatters in handcuffs and in the custody of Martin County
sheriff's deputies hours before he was questioned and arrested in the
three women's deaths.
is accused of strangling the three women between March and June.
"Obviously, he admits he was the last one with each of the victims, and
that he was having sex with them when something happened," said
Assistant State Attorney Nita Denton. "He doesn't tell us what that
something is, but then he admits they're dead."