Four-year old Austin James Watkins was starved to death while in the custody of his grandmother, Janice Mowdy, and his aunt, Stephanie Bell. Mowdy and Bell were charged with Capital Murder. The State was seeking the death penalty.
The trial was scheduled to begin yesterday. However, prosecutors and defense counsel announced to the Court that a plea deal had been reached. Mowdy and Bell plead guilty to Capital Murder, in exchange for the State dropping its request for the death penalty. Immediately after entering the guilty pleas, Mowdy and Bell received the mandatory sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
During the plea hearing, Scott County Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon tried, unsuccessfully, to find out why these women allowed the child to starve to death, and what they possibly could have been thinking. They had no explanation for their actions. WLBT has a video of the sentencing hearing here. The lack of an explanation from the defendants is astonishing.
In almost every criminal case, there is a motive. Figuring out why someone committed a crime is usually pretty simple. While the State is not required to prove a motive on the part of the defendants, it is always helpful to be able to tell the jury why a person committed a crime. Having an answer to the “why” question can sometimes also be helpful to the defense in explaining the behavior of the accused. It’s human nature for people to want to know why someone committed a crime.
This is one of the rare cases where no motive can be determined. Initially, there was speculation that the defendants starved the child to death to collect on a life insurance policy. It was later determined that there was no policy on the child’s life. After ruling out a financial motive, law enforcement was unable to point to any reason why Mowdy and Bell killed this child. Even Mowdy and Bell themselves, with their lives literally on the line, couldn’t explain it to Judge Gordon.
This is one of the most senseless, and saddest, cases I’ve seen in quite some time. The child never had a chance. And still no one knows why the defendants killed this child, or what they were thinking while the child was slowly dying, day after day after agonizing day. Although this case is technically over, I suspect it will be one of those rare criminal cases where the “why?” will remain forever unanswered.