A man who told authorities two decades ago that he killed 13 women but was never charged with murder stands trial Monday for the stabbing death of a 14th woman, whose body was found in an alley in 1979.
Coral Eugene Watts is set to be freed in 2006 after serving time in Texas for burglary with intent to murder. But first he must face a first-degree murder charge in Pontiac, Mich., for the death of Helen Dutcher in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale.
If convicted, Watts faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole. Michigan does not have the death penalty.
Watts pleaded guilty to the lesser charge in Texas in 1982 under a controversial deal in which he agreed to help prosecutors -- who lacked evidence for a murder charge -- solve 13 killings. Twelve of those killings took place in Texas and the other one -- not Dutcher -- was in Michigan.
At the time, prosecutors expected Watts would serve 60 years, which would have meant he would either die behind bars or be in his eighties when he was freed. But because of an appeals court ruling and mandatory release laws, Watts is set to be released in April 2006, when he will be 52.
In Dutcher's case, Circuit Court Judge Richard Kuhn has ruled that Watts's decades-old confession can be admitted in his trial, saying the other 13 killings show a pattern of behavior. Defense attorney Ronald Kaplovitz had fought to keep out the confession.
In addition to Watts's confession, prosecutors have a key witness, Joseph Foy, who says he saw the killing from his back porch. Foy said he told police years ago what he saw, but the killing of Dutcher remained unsolved. He resurfaced in January after he saw Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox on television appealing for help in solving the case.
"I'll never forget it," Foy said at a hearing for Watts in June. "As far as him it was blank. What just happened -- he had no emotion . . . like he just dropped off his laundry."