Fifty-three-year-old Coral Eugene Watts, who confessed to slaying 11 women in Texas -- two from the Dallas area -- died of prostate cancer on Friday in a Michigan prison. Watts was the poster boy for the unintended consequences of plea bargains in Texas.
Suspected in dozens of murders, the Michigan native killed random women he saw on the street -- usually before dawn -- and left no physical evidence that could be traced to him. After a 1982 attack on two women in Houston, both of whom lived, Watts was arrested and charged with burglary with attempt to commit murder.
Watts told Houston detectives he attacked the women because they had “evil eyes.” The paper version of Unfair Park described Watts’ horrific crimes in a June 2003 cover story. It wasn’t enough to take their lives. Watts had to kill their spirits.
In 1982, the Harris County District Attorney made a deal with Watts. He gave detailed confessions to one murder in Michigan and 11 in Texas, showing detectives where he had buried three bodies. One was Anna Ledet, a 34-year-old Dallas woman attending medical school in Galveston; another was Linda Tilley, an Arlington woman in school at the University of Texas, probably Watts’ first Texas victim.
In return Watts got 60 years in prison. Victims’ families assumed that if he ever got out, Watts would be at least 70.
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But an appeals challenge reduced the sentence to less than 25 years, and the Texas Department of Corrections “good-time” policy allowed Watts to rack up enough days to win his mandatory release from prison in May 2006. That would have made Watt the first serial killer to walk out of a Texas prison a free man. He would have served less than two years for each woman he slaughtered.
After doing the math, the families of Watts’ victims banded together to prevent his release. They lobbied authorities in Michigan to re-open murder cases in which Watts was the main suspect.
Watts got out of a Texas prison only long enough to be extradited to Michigan. In 2004, He stood trial for a 1979 murder and received life.
Only last week, Watts had been sentenced to life in prison for the 1974 murder of Gloria Steele, a 19-year-old student at Western Michigan University who some detectives suspected was the first victim in his 10-year killing spree. RIP, Eugene Watts? Doubtful. RIH is more like it. --Glenna Whitley