Really? When was the last time you saw Mr. Watson?
Keigwin said that the two of them had been biking the previous Saturday and John had fallen, suffering facial cuts and body bruises. Keigwin dropped Watson off at the hospital and realized, days later, that his friend had left his car keys and wallet in Keigwin’s car. These he had returned to the La Jolla Shores office the day before, when he heard the news.
The detective placed Keigwin under arrest. In his backpack were three plastic bags, a flashlight, and a dust mask. The police also found a small piece of plastic, one of the two blast doors from the Taser. The keys to Watson’s apartment were in Keigwin’s pocket. In his car, detectives located Watson’s computer, and later, searching Keigwin’s apartment, they found financial statements from Deutsche Bank and the new Scottrade account spread out on his living room table.
Verdict and Sentencing
The eight-day trial, in November 2011, nearly a year and a half after the crime, was unyielding in its prosecutorial force. Deputy district attorney Sharla Evert showcased some 35 witnesses and 180 pieces of evidence, arguing the charge of first-degree murder with the special circumstances of murder during a robbery and murder for financial gain. In addition, Keigwin was charged with five other felonies: two counts of identify theft, attempted grand theft, burglary, and forgery.
Pretrial, Keigwin tried to escape his fate by offering to plead guilty to second-degree murder and to the other felonies. But Evert knew the evidence in the case was “overwhelming.” So her office sought first-degree murder but not the death penalty. “Bonnie [Dumanis] didn’t believe it fit the criteria,” Evert told me; the defendant’s age and his lack of a criminal record were in his favor. Besides, she added, Watson’s friends and family hoped to see Keigwin tried, exposed, and held accountable. A plan she agreed with.
During her 90-minute summation, Evert said Keigwin acted like a hunter: “He finds his target, observes it, then goes in for the kill.” At one point she teared up. She said Keigwin had to choke Watson, hands clamped around his neck, for several minutes to stop his breathing. She paused and asked the jury to consider, “How much time do you need before the person goes limp?”
Keigwin’s public defender, Stacy Gulley, suggested in his 29-minute closing argument that Keigwin had killed a friend “in the heat of passion” — admitting to the crime in hopes of planting doubt in the jurors’ minds about its premeditation. The two men were buddies, he claimed. Watson invited him in. They talked. They quarreled. A struggle ensued. “Yes, a man died. But nobody knows what happened in that apartment that night.”
And yet, during the trial, this was not the tack Gulley took. Instead, he insisted that the police may have “contaminated the evidence” in the lab (shades of O.J. Simpson). And he argued that positional asphyxia — an accident in which Watson fell, lost consciousness and, lying in an awkward position, suffocated — might have been the cause.
One juror told me that Gulley’s theory of an argument gone bad between two so-called friends was risible: “If you were going to settle a difference with a friend,” he said, “you don’t bring a Taser with you.”
The jury bought none of Gulley’s suspicions and all of the prosecution’s facts.
Guilty on all counts. Murder in the first degree.
After the trial, Evert observed that families of those charged with murder often don’t believe that their loved one committed the crime. During this case, she said, Keigwin’s family “saw what he was capable of doing.” This may be why none of his kin came for the verdict. “John Watson died to his family,” Evert said, “and Kent Keigwin did to his family as well. Not because they’ll never visit him [in prison], but because the person they knew doesn’t exist.”
Such sentiments were expressed to the court prior to Judge Frederic Link’s sentencing of Keigwin in January. Keigwin’s brother Jim said the family was “dumbfounded and crushed.” “We don’t ask for mercy” for Kent “because he gave no mercy” to Watson. Beth Martinez kept the focus on her and her husband’s friend. “John didn’t live like a man who had millions of dollars. He drove a 14-year-old car and lived in a modest two-bedroom apartment. He had worked hard and sacrificed for over 40 years, building his nest egg to enable him to enjoy his later years in comfort. John lived a noble life characterized by his passion, conviction, impeccable ethics, and high standard of excellence.”
Keigwin briefly addressed the judge, saying, “I am sad for the death of John Watson,” and he quoted a passage from the Bible about God showing compassion to everyone. One trial watcher noted that perhaps in jail Keigwin had had a religious conversion.
Evert stated to the court that the one thing family and friends wanted to hear from Keigwin was something he would not say: “‘I killed this man and I’m sorry.’” (Evert told me later that Keigwin, on the advice of his attorney, would not admit to the murder because he didn’t want to jeopardize the likely appeal of his conviction. She said she understood: “the right to appeal a verdict is one of the only things that brings hope” to a convicted felon.)
In England, there were no doubt tears and relief when Watson’s sister Gillian Ison heard that Link had sentenced her brother’s killer to life in prison without parole. It may soothe her to know that Link underscored his decision on Keigwin’s fate with his knifelike line: “I have no mercy for you.”
Ison said after the verdicts were read that life in prison would make Keigwin suffer the most — some compensation for what her brother had endured. “In England it’s as though they stay in hotels.” But in America, she said defiantly, “He’ll rot.”
To honor Watson’s memory, his family has endowed the John G. Watson Foundation with $1 million to promote entrepreneurism, overseen by Tech Coast Angels, and the nonprofit Friends of La Jolla Shores is building a new comfort station at the beach where Watson loved to swim and surf.