Burden Of Proof: The Trial

Prosecutor Sheila Ross Plays Hardball

Jim Watson could spend the rest of his life in prison, but he says he's not worried.

"We don't want a hung jury. We don't want a mistrial, we want an acquittal," says Jim. "I am innocent and I'd like for everyone else to know that I'm innocent."

But before the trial begins, Judge T. Jackson Bedford makes a decision crucial to the prosecution's case.

Hearsay testimony would be admitted, a major victory for Ross, who opens her case with a parade of Beverly's friends and co-workers describing what they saw as evidence of Watson's abuse and threats.

Some of the most damning testimony comes from Beverly's best friend, Debbie White.

"She said they had argued all night long and that she wasn't speaking to Jim," remembers White.

"And as we were talking, Jim walked into the room and he pulled a shotgun and put it to the back of her head. And he said, 'So are you going to talk to me now?'"

"She said, 'This isn't the first he's done this to me. I've woken up several times in the middle of the night and he's standing over me with a gun and he said, "See? I could have killed you and you'd never know what hit you."'" White testifies.

"Beverly told me that one evening, she was doing the dishes in the kitchen and that Jim had come up behind her and grabbed her around the neck and before she knew it, he had flipped her over and had slammed her head on the kitchen floor and was on top of her, choking her. She said that she was screaming. And Ashley had come into the kitchen and she was screaming for Ashley to get him off of her, that he was hurting her."
Throughout the prosecution's case, Jim sits stoically in court.

Meanwhile, daughter Ashley tries to be strong for her father. She sends her brother, Todd, to camp to avoid the trial. And since she can't attend because she has to testify, Ashley stays home and manages Jim's locksmith business.

As the trial continues, Ross methodically builds her case, using gruesome exhibits like a tattered pair of black panties found near Beverly's bones.

"My only hope is that Jim's life is filled with the same fear, the same pain," says Beverly's brother, Scott Bennet. "We want him to hurt far more than he made Beverly hurt."

The case seems to be going Ross's way until the medical examiner testifies that she can't determine the cause of Beverly's death.

Sexton jumps on the examiner's admission, suggesting that Beverly's death may have been caused by something else besides murder.

He scores another devastating admission when a prosecution witness testifies that tests done on the dust found on Beverly's car could not be tied to the spot where her body was found -- or even to the state of Georgia.

"I hope to God the jury finds him not guilty," says Sexton. "This is one of those rare occasions where we're representing an innocent person."

As the state rests, the question persists: Has Ross proven that Jim Watson is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?

"He's not going to break down and admit it," says Ross. "But the devil with him is in the detail, and he's lying, and he's a bad liar."
The pressure is now on Ashley Watson to convince the jury that her father did not kill her mother.

Ashley was only 12 when her mother, Beverly, vanished. But Sexton asks her if she ever saw her father choke, hit, or hurt Beverly in any way. She answers no to every question.

Ross wants to downplay the importance of Ashley's testimony, so she leaves the Ashley questioning to co-counsel Michelle McCutcheon.

McCutcheon: Have you ever seen your mother throw anything at your father, Ashley?
Ashley: No, ma'am.
McCutcheon: Have you ever seen your mother scratch your father?
Ashley: No, ma'am.
McCutcheon: So on January the 18th of 1997, Ashley, if your father told you that your mother threw keys at him and scratched him, that would be out of character for your mother, wouldn't it, Ashley?
Ashley: It would be, but I believed him.

"He has coached that kid every day about she should say and what she shouldn't say. And I think it would be painfully obvious to anyone that this girl's just going to parrot her father," says Ross.

When Jim Watson takes the stand, he denies ever threatening his wife, or making statements that he could kill Beverly and hide her body where it would never be found.

"It's been very tough, trying to raise two kids on my own," says Jim, crying. "Beverly and I were high school sweethearts. She was my best friend."

During questioning, Ross asks Jim if he cried when he first reported Beverly missing or when he discovered that his wife was dead.

"No, ma'am, I did not cry at the time," says Jim.

Ross does her best to provoke Jim, asking him in depth about the makeup he had put on after his wife disappeared.

Ross: Tell me about your experience with makeup, Mr. Watson.
Jim Watson: I don't have much experience with it.
Ross: Makeup is used to cover up things up, right?
Jim Watson: That's correct.
Ross: And you used makeup to cover up scratches on your face, right?
Jim Watson: They were covered up, yes.
Ross: And what kind of makeup did you use?
Jim Watson: I don't know.
Ross: Liquid or powder?
Jim Watson: I don't recall.
Ross: Well, you put it on, right?
Jim Watson: I did.
Ross: Show us how you put it on.
Jim Watson: I don't recall how I put it on.
Ross: We've got some makeup here. You could show us how you put it on.
Sexton: Your honor, I'm going to object to that. That's just totally unnecessary. That's improper.
Judge: I'll allow it.
Ross: We've got several types. I don't know which type you used. Powder. That's a cover up. Concealer and base. Which one was it?
Jim Watson: I do not recall the type she used at the time.
Ross: Well, this would be the type that you used.
Jim Watson: Right.
Ross: So you're not willing to show the members of the jury how you did it.
Jim Watson: I do not recall how I put the makeup on.
Ross: Well, did you look in the mirror to do it?
Jim Watson: I'm assuming I did, yes.
Ross: Because you wanted to make sure the scratches were covered up, right.
Jim Watson: That was my whole intention.
Ross: Exactly.

In closing, each side appeals to the jury's sense of justice.

"I would not be foolish enough to stand up here before you people, and tell you that you should not suspect that Jim Watson might have done it. That is the natural place you go, when the wife disappears," says Sexton, in defense of Jim Watson.

"As you look to the husband, you should suspect he did it. But you are not allowed, in this great country that we live in, to make that quantum leap from suspicion to conviction, unless the state can show some real evidence."

"Help Beverly," says Ross. "Give Beverly what she deserves, which is justice. Tell her killer that you will not reward him for being a good killer. That you see through all his lies and you speak for Beverly by letting her killer know that you're not going to let him get away with it. If you do not hold him responsible for her murder, no one ever will."
After two weeks of testimony, the question of whether Jim Watson killed his wife Beverly is now in the hands of the jury.

But they don't have to wait for long. The jury makes its decision after five hours of deliberations.

"We the jury find the defendant, James Lamar Watson, Jr., guilty of malice murder."

"I felt like the weight of the world had just lifted off my shoulders," says Ross.

The judge immediately sentences Jim Watson to life in prison. Jim will not be eligible for parole for at least 14 years.

"It made me feel great that we had done our job, and that we had told Beverly's story," says Ross. "He's in prison now, where he belongs."

But this victory comes with a price. The children who once lost their mother have now lost their father, too.

"I felt deep sorrow for Ashley and Todd," says Debbie White. "I mean, I kept looking over at Ashley and I just – I thought of how her mother loved her so much, and I really hate that she been put in this position that she's in. I wish I could change that for her."

Todd is now living with his father's sister. And Ashley is living on her own in her parents' house, still trying to run her father's locksmith business.

"It is tragic all the way around for the children," said Ross. "But we can't let a killer roam free all because he has children."

"It's sad for them and it's tragic for them. But that doesn't mean he gets away with killing his wife."

Burden Of Proof: Part I