- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

DALLAS — A Texas convict, described as “a confessed killing machine” and due to be released in 2006, might not hit the streets after all — thanks to a Michigan investigation and murder charges filed there last week.

Coral Eugene Watts, a former Michigan resident, has been serving a 60-year aggravated burglary sentence — thanks to a 1982 plea bargain, which authorities accepted after Watts offered the plea with the unspecified promise to clear up some unsolved slayings.

Watts confessed in detail to 13 killings, and officials at the state prison system thought he would have to serve at least 30 years behind bars on the burglary charge, but the plea bargain failed to specify a stricter “good time served” credit.

As a result, Watts, now 50, has been able to get two and sometimes three extra days for each day served counted against his sentence, instead of one extra day. Thus, under the state’s mandatory release laws for parole-eligible inmates, he must be freed in 2006, becoming the first known serial killer to be set free.

But after months of intensive investigation of many cases thought to have been the work of Watts, murder charges were filed Thursday in Ferndale, Mich., in the 1979 killing of 36-year-old Helen Mae Dutcher, who was stabbed and slashed to death in an alley.

An eyewitness to the slaying came forward in January, after watching a show on MSNBC about Watts’ planned release.

Michigan Attorney General Michael Cox held a press conference in Detroit on Thursday, announcing plans to extradite Watts to Michigan on a first-degree murder charge. If convicted, Watts would get an automatic life sentence, without possibility of parole.

“This man is a confessed killing machine who has promised to kill again,” Mr. Cox said. “The specter of Watts’ release has haunted Michigan families, the nation and untold victims and their families for too long.”

In his 1982 Texas confession, which cannot be used as evidence, Watts mentioned other killings in Michigan and Canada — though not in sufficient detail for authorities to charge him then.

As he was hauled off to prison, he told a guard, “I’ll do it again, if I ever get out.”

The Michigan witness, unidentified except that he was a 45-year-old man, reported the Dutcher slaying within hours and met with a police sketch artist shortly thereafter. Then, in 1982, after watching another TV report of Watts’ immunity deal in Texas, he called police again.

“I don’t know why it didn’t go anywhere at the time,” Mr. Cox said.

Michigan police say Watts has bragged of killing as many as 80 women.

Paul Bunten, an investigator with the Ann Arbor Police Department in the 1980s, interviewed Watts several times while investigating three murders there. He described Watts as “cunning and streetwise” and described a meeting with investigators in which Watts was asked how many people he had killed.

According to Mr. Bunten, Watts replied: “I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many. There aren’t enough fingers and toes in this room.”

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