Chris Watts: Dad admits to killing family to avoid death penalty

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A Colorado man charged with killing his pregnant wife and two daughters has pleaded guilty under a plea deal that will allow him to avoid the death penalty.

Chris Watts, 33, entered a plea deal Tuesday on nine charges, including murder and unlawful termination of a pregnancy, in the deaths of his wife, Shanann, 34, and their two kids, according to CNN.

Shanann, Bella and Celeste were reported missing August 13 from their home in Frederick, a town of about 8600 people about 50 kilometres north of Denver. Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant at the time of her disappearance.

The victims' family agreed to those terms, the district attorney's office added.

Rourke said he flew to North Carolina to discuss the possible agreement with relatives of Shanann Watts and they signed off on removing the death penalty option. But he said: "I know that will never be fully realized, because the tragedy that sits before us today is the loss of four lovely lives".

Sentencing will begin for the other crimes on November 19.

"That, to me, was the most important consideration in deciding how to proceed with this case", Rourke said. He did not look at member of Shanann Watts' family.

Watts pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of his wife and daughters and allegations that he killed the girls while in a position of trust.

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Family friend Ashley Bell said he did not understand why Watts killed his family, describing him as a loving father and his wife as "pretty happy" at the time of her death.

Their bodies were found hidden in a Colorado oil field, news accounts say, with Shannan Watts buried in a shallow grave and the girls dumped into an oil tank.

"They were very strongly in favor of a resolution in this case short of the death penalty", Rourke said.

Rourke said Tuesday that investigators never believed that Watts was being entirely truthful. Police have said Watts drove their bodies to an oil site owned by his former employer. But he said he strangled her in "a rage" when he discovered she had strangled their two daughters after he sought a separation.

"The spotlight that he tried to shine on Shanann - falsely, incorrectly and frankly a flat-out lie - has been corrected", Rourke said.

Rourke said investigators believe they have a partial motive for the slayings, but said he wouldn't give details until after Watts is sentenced. "The spotlight shines directly where it belongs - on him", Rourke said.

Colorado law requires that a first-degree murder conviction brings a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.

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