Forum News Service, Published November 15 2013
Suspect killed in Minnesota home invasion involved in 2009 Grand Forks crime spree
The 23-year-old had been convicted of a series of Grand Forks robberies in 2009 for which he expressed remorse. The judge was skeptical then because of Watts’ criminal record.
Early Thursday morning, the Pine County Sheriff’s Department said it received a report of a shooting at a home near Sandstone, Minn. That’s where deputies found the body of a man later identified as Watts.
The 75-year-old resident of the home told investigators that two men had entered in a robbery attempt and at least one had a gun. The resident said he was able to find his own gun and shot and killed one of the intruders.
The other fled on foot but, by the afternoon, Pine County deputies said they had arrested three, including a 16-year-old boy. No other suspects were being sought. They also confiscated a van believed to be involved in the incident.
Sandstone is about 65 miles southeast of Duluth.
The area appears to be where Watts grew up, racking up a juvenile criminal record. He was still living in nearby Pine City when he was convicted of the Grand Forks crimes.
He had turned 19 in April 2009 when he and another man robbed two Grand Forks Cenex stores, one of them twice. They robbed the Big Cigs store in May. Police said the pair used golf clubs to rob the Cenex stores.
Watts pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery and one of burglary, in exchange for prosecutors dropping one count of robbery and a count of terrorizing; he allegedly threatened a Big Cigs clerk with a knife.
The plea agreement called for Watts to serve 10 years in prison with six years suspended and six years of supervised probation.
State District Judge Lawrence Janke indicated then that he was reluctant to accept such a deal.
“You’re getting a heck of a break,” he told the teen, reminding him that if he’s convicted of another crime while on probation, he’ll have to serve the balance of the 10-year sentence.
“You are the only person in this courtroom who can control what happens to the rest of your life,” Jahnke told him.
The North Dakota state prison said Friday that he was released Nov. 7, 2012.
Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole described the shooting as a “very, very dangerous and tragic set of events” Thursday morning during his weekly radio show on WCMP in Pine City.
The motive for the alleged robbers could have been a search for painkillers the homeowner uses for his cancer treatment.
A friend of the homeowner said Friday he suspected the same thing. “He is 74 years old with I believe esophageal cancer. He didn’t deserve this at all,” the friend said. “This is something you hear about in bigger cities. I was totally shocked.”
Cole said Watts and the three arrested were all known to the sheriff’s office. Only the 16-year-old was still in custody; the others have been interviewed and released.
The sheriff’s office said the juvenile faces several felony charges, including first-degree burglary.
“The arrested party does have a criminal history,” Chief Deputy Steven Blackwell said.