Judge grants rare request from Caddo DA to hand over sealed grand jury transcripts to defense in Jose double murder case

Crime

SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – A Caddo district court judge has taken the unusual step of granting a request from prosecutors to release sealed grand jury transcripts to the defense in the case of a Shreveport man accused of killing a local couple who offered him a ride.

Heather and Kelly Jose

DeWayne Willie Watkins, 36, is accused of fatally shooting Barksdale Airman Kelly Jose and his wife Heather in November 2018. Watkins allegedly stalked the couple through Mall St. Vincent before asking to borrow Heather’s phone and then asking for a ride before fatally shooting her husband, forcing her to drive to an ATM to empty out her bank account and making her drive to an abandoned house in Queensborough, where he allegedly shot her before setting fire to the car with the couple’s bodies inside.

Watkins was arrested three days later after a standoff with police that lasted nearly six hours. He was indicted by a Caddo Parish grand jury on two-counts of first-degree murder in February 2019. His trial is set for October 2021. Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart initially filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty in the case, but later withdrew it, citing the need to get Watkins to trial, coupled with “an influx of new homicide cases during the pandemic,” which he said had backed up trials for a year.

Willie DeWayne Watkins 11-12-18_1542150092668.JPG.jpg
DeWayne Willie Watkins, 36, is accused of fatally shooting Barksdale Airman Kelly Jose and his wife Heather November 2018. (Source: Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office)

If Watkins is convicted by a jury, he will automatically be sentenced to life in prison without parole, probation or suspension of sentence.

On Tuesday, Caddo District Judge John Mosley granted a motion to release the sealed grand jury transcripts to Watkins, his attorneys and their staff because they believe the transcript “potentially contains impeachment and exculpatory material,” which basically means there is information in it that might help the defense.

In Louisiana, a conviction can be overturned if it is learned prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that might have helped the defense.

State law gives the District Attorney and his assistants the authority to disclose grand jury testimony when it is favorable to a defendant, but in the order signed Tuesday, Mosely noted that “the Court recognizes that grand jury secrecy is a legitimate interest and that by submitting the matter for judicial review, the District Attorney obtains judicial sanction and the authority to restrict the further use and dissemination of the protected materials.”

The motion included the stipulations that the material not be reproduced and be returned to the State of Louisiana to be resealed at the conclusion of the trial.

Judge Mosley has yet to rule on several other motions filed by both sides Tuesday regarding the relevance of testimony from a man with whom Watkins had spoken about buying a puppy and met in the area where the slain couple’s bodies were found.

The defense also filed two motions asking that the court suppress statements given by Watson in November 2018 and in January 2018, claiming Watkins was unable understand his Miranda Rights.

Both those motions included information gleaned from a neuropsychological exam and report, performed by Dr. R. John Sawyer, neuropsychologist with the Ochsner Health System’s department of Neurology and Neuroscience Institute.

That motion claimed though Watkins signed a Miranda waivers after they were read to him both times, he has an I.Q. of 64 and reads on the 1st-2nd-grade level, and has “significant” limitations in understanding “multiple” words that police read out loud to him in the waiver that explained his rights.

The state countered with a motion asking for a copy of the materials and any mental examinations and testing relied on by Sawyer in reaching his conclusions.

The defense also filed a motion asking the court order the Shreveport Police Department to release certain pieces of “firearm and ballistic” evidence from the North Louisiana Criminal Laboratory, so they can have their own expert conduct a scientific analysis of the evidence.

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