A 33-year-old Colorado man pleaded guilty to killing his wife and two young daughters on Tuesday in a deal with authorities that allows him to escape the death penalty. His plea includes the unlawful termination of pregnancy for the death of his unborn son, Nico.
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.
He could be heard sniffing and trembled each time he said "guilty" in response to each charge read against him by the judge. Her parents, Frank Rzucek and Sandra Onorati Rzucek, and her brother, Frankie Rzucek, watched from a front row of the packed courtroom.
After his pregnant wife and two daughters disappeared, Watts stood on his porch in Colorado and told reporters how much he missed them. The plea deal states that Watts will serve consecutive life terms for the three murders, news media reported.
"I can only say that I hope there is a sense of closure (for family members of the deceased)", Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said.
Rourke said he and another prosecutor visited Shanann Watts' family in North Carolina last month to discuss the odds of a death penalty sentence being carried out.
"They were very strongly in favor of a resolution in this case short of the death penalty", Rourke said. Shanann Watts was a prolific poster on Facebook and she projected the image of a happy, ideal family. "I don't want to be in the position to make that choice to take his, '" Rourke said.
Watts is scheduled to be sentenced November 19.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigations later said Shanann Watts and the girls were murdered inside their home.
Shanann Watts, 34, who was 15 weeks pregnant, and their daughters, Celeste, three, and Bella, four, were reported missing in August.
It's alleged he drove their bodies to an oil site, and police said the girls' bodies were found in an oil tank while his wife's body was found in a shallow grave. The three bodies were found on property near Roggen owned by Anadarko Petroleum Co., where Watts worked as an operator until August 15.
Rourke said he was not willing to dismiss any charges in exchange for the promise of guilty pleas.
Investigators never believed his story, Mr Rourke said.
On Tuesday, the accused pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree murder of a victim under the age of 12.
Law enforcement believe they know the motive behind the murders, as well, and Rourke said he might speak about it after the sentencing.