Burden of Proof

Was Beverly Watson's Death The Perfect Crime?

When Ashley Watson graduated from high school last spring, her proud father and her younger brother, Todd, were by her side.

But someone was missing. Six years before, when Ashley was 12, her mother Beverly Watson, a bookkeeper at a local country club, vanished into the night.

"I felt like I had a part of her with me and that she was looking down, so I just kept that with me," said Ashley on graduation day.

Since her mom disappeared, Ashley has grown close to her dad, a part-time police officer who runs his own locksmith business.

"He's a great dad," she says. "He's real involved in my life, and we have a really great relationship. We're very honest with each other."

Jim Watson seems to be a loving father, but was he a good husband? Correspondent Harold Dow reports.

The Watsons had a rocky marriage, and after 14 years, Beverly had decided to leave him and take the children. On the last night she was seen alive, Jim wanted to talk about their problems, but Beverly didn't. Instead, she went to see her best friend, Debbie White.

They went out to eat and talk, and Beverly did not get home until midnight. Watson admits he was waiting for her, and they immediately began arguing.

"She got mad," he says. "She kind of closed the cabinet door kind of hard and went and got her car keys and her purse and wanted to leave out the garage door. When I stopped her from going, she threw her car keys and said she didn't need her car keys to leave."

He says he heard her leave out the front door – and he never saw her again.
It wasn't until Monday when Watson told his children their mother was missing and called police.

Major Bruce Jordan of the Fayette County Sheriff's Dept. says Watson allowed police to search his house without a warrant, and that nothing incriminating was found. But he says Watson was wearing makeup and when it was washed off, Jordan says, "it was obviously to me fingernail scratches."

There also was a strange layer of fine dust on Beverly's car in the garage. Police preserved the dust, but didn't know what to make of it.

Beverly's friends began calling police, telling them they suspected that Watson had killed his wife.

One friend, Donna Spainhour, says, "She said, 'If anything ever happens to me, you tell them that Jim did it.'"

White says Watson was very controlling. "He knew every move she made. If he didn't like a particular type of clothing that Beverly wore, it disappeared," she says.

Despite his protests – "I would never hurt Beverly or harm Beverly in any way" – Watson became the prime suspect in Beverly's disappearance.

But there was no evidence, no witnesses, not even a body.

Prosecutor Sheila Ross says pursuing a wife killer is always difficult.

"The domestic killer has a distinct advantage over a stranger-on-stranger homicide because they can kill in the privacy of their own home," says Ross. "People like that are far worse than killers who pick total strangers because they're violating their trust. They're stealing the mother from their own children."

But Jim's daughter, Ashley, says they're wrong about her father. "I know he didn't do anything and it's so frustrating to hear all these people who don't even know him. And I think that's made me stay right by his side."

Is Jim Watson a devoted dad, a calculating killer, or both?

"Jim Watson is a wife killer," says Ross. "A typical, spineless wife killer."

Two years after Beverly disappeared, a surveyor stumbled across a skull in the woods and tests prove it was Beverly's. For Ross, the discovery of Beverly's remains, off Red Mill Road about 20 miles from the Watson home, was a major break in the case.

"She laid out here for two years, waiting to be found," says Ross. "Not only was she killed ... and deprived of her right to see her children grow old, but to add insult to injury, he dumps her out here where she's literally ripped apart by animals."

Besides the 12 bones, investigators also found dust similar to the fine layer of dust that covered Beverly's car the week she disappeared.

Beverly's cause of death was ruled "undetermined" and the case against Watson remained shaky.

But that didn't stop Sheila Ross.

Nicknamed "Sheila the Shark" by her coworkers, Ross was determined to get justice.

"Sheila is one of those individuals who, when you give it to her, she's going to go line by line," says Fulton County detective Frank Martin, who's helping Ross with the investigation. "She's not going to miss anything."

On her side is Beverly's family, who want to see Watson prosecuted.

"Sheila Ross is such a firecracker. I think she's going to be the end of Jim Watson," says Mandy Dunn, Beverly's niece.

But caught in the middle of this blood feud are the Watson children, Ashley and Todd, who want nothing to do with their mother's family.

"I want everyone to know that I am ashamed of them," says daughter Ashley.

"We understand why Ashley is having bitter feelings towards us," says Beverly's brother, Scott Bennet. "She's lost her mother and now we're going to take her father, but it's the best thing for her."

Nearly five years to the day that Beverly disappeared, Ross took the case to a Fulton County grand jury.

"We could have been too afraid to try to bring this man to justice and sit in the corner and let him get away with killing his wife or we could try. We chose to try," Ross says.

The grand jury agreed with her and indicted Watson for the murder of his wife.

"He's had his time," says Beverly's brother, Scott. "Quite frankly, he was given an additional five years to live longer than Beverly."

But Jim Watson insists he's innocent. And in a show of good faith, he agreed to a videotaped interview with Detective Martin, without his lawyer.

"I couldn't see any sincerity in his eyes," says Martin.

Lee Sexton, Watson's attorney, saw all the holes in the government's case: "I've tried a lot of murder cases in my career and I've never tried one without evidence of murder."

"The state's going to attempt to get a jury to speculate him into the rest of his life in a penitentiary. That's not the way we do law in the United States. We require proof. And there's not any."

"It's a tough homicide," says Ross. "There's no doubt about it. I anticipate an absolute dogfight."

Sexton tried to knock out the heart of the state's case, saying everything Beverly told her friends is hearsay. But the judge put off his decision until the first day of the trial.

"We're trying to get justice for Beverly, justice that has been denied for five years," says Ross. "If the jury chooses to let him go, it's blood on their hands."

Burden Of Proof, Part II: The Trial