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Eugene Wayman McWATTERS Jr.






A.K.A.: "The Salerno Strangler"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: March-June 2004
Date of arrest: June 23, 2004
Date of birth: June 20, 1978
Victims profile: Jackie Bradley, 43 / Christal Wiggins, 29 / Carrie Caughey, 18
Method of murder: Strangulation
LocationMartin County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on December 4, 2006

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Man sentenced to death for killing 3 women

December 05, 2006

STUART, Fla. -- A man has been sentenced to die for sexually assaulting and strangling three women during a 10-week period in 2004.

Circuit Judge Larry Schack also ordered Monday that Eugene Wayman McWatters Jr., 28, serve three consecutive life prison terms for raping the women. McWatters also needs to be chemically castrated if he meets the medical criteria, Schack said.

McWatters was convicted by a jury Sept. 28 of first-degree murder and sexual battery.

"The joke you thought you were playing is now on you," said Laura Crosby Dittmer, whose mother, Jackie Bradley, was McWatters' first victim.

Prosecutor Tom Bakkedahl called McWatters a coward for refusing to speak at the sentencing.

"This defendant is the worst of the worst," Bakkedahl said.

A telephone call placed to McWatters' attorneys, Robert Udell and Rusty Akins, was not immediately returned Tuesday morning.

Bradley, Christal Wiggins and Carrie Caughey were found unclothed from the waist down and strangled.

McWatters confessed to the murders in a statement recorded by police, telling them that he was having sex with each of the women and "lost it" before killing them.


System nails serial killer

October 4, 2006

The criminal justice system worked as it is supposed to in apprehending, trying and convicting Eugene McWatters of the rape and murder of three Martin County women in the 2004 "Salerno Strangler" killings.

Law enforcement officers' methodical and creative work convinced McWatters, 28, to confess. He told detectives that the three women died while he was having sex with them, though he did not remember choking them. Martin County Sheriff's detectives moved quickly to find the killer after the deaths of Jackie Bradley, 43, Christal Wiggins, 29, and Carrie Caughey, 18.

Plunging into the world of alcoholics and addicts who live a shadow life in the woods near Port Salerno and Golden Gate, deputies sought the killer without losing sight of the fact that the women, two of whom were known to trade sex for drugs or money, were human beings with families who loved them. Det. Mike Dougherty pretended to befriend McWatters and ultimately got him to confess.

In a walk through one of the crime scenes after his arrest, McWatters described details of the murders that never had been released, such as where one victim was attacked, that rocks were used to weigh down another's body in a drainage ditch, and that he broke off tree branches to hide one of the bodies in the woods.

An addict himself, McWatters said of the murders: "I don't know how or why I done that. It's still a mystery to my own self."

Armed with the information gathered by deputies and detectives, Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl put on a powerful case against McWatters. Mr. Bakkedahl called on the street people, who knew both McWatters and his victims, as witnesses who last saw the women with him.

To illustrate premeditation, Mr. Bakkedahl told jurors that strangling someone to death can take up to 4 minutes if there is no struggle. To make the point, he held his hands, as if choking an invisible throat, for an intense, silent 60 seconds. Law enforcement officers, the state attorney's office and the jury all did their part to find McWatters, exact a confession and get him off the street.

A jury today considers whether to recommend a sentence of death or life without possibility of parole. Whatever the jury decides, the sheriff's office and the prosecutor deserve praise for the way they handled this case. Their work ensures that this killer never will be free to prey upon women again.


Man cries after Stuart jury convicts him of killing 3 women

September 30, 2006

STUART -- It took a Martin County jury about two hours on Thursday to find Eugene Wayman McWatters Jr. guilty of the "Salerno Strangler" murders.

The jury found McWatters guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of sexual battery in the 2004 deaths of Jacqueline Bradley, 43, Christal Wiggins, 29, and Carrie Caughey, 18.

Dressed in navy slacks and a pale yellow checkered shirt with shackles around his ankles, McWatters, 28, cried when the verdict was read. His family, including his mother, and his pregnant sister, whose baby's due date is today, sat behind him.

After hearing closing arguments Wednesday, the jurors deliberated for about five hours before going home for the evening about 6 p.m. The 12-person jury consisting of 10 men and two women began deliberating again at 8:40 a.m. today and reached a verdict at 11 a.m.

The prosecutors and defense rested their cases Monday afternoon -- the defense without calling a single witness.

Throughout six days of testimony, prosecutors painted McWatters as a calculating killer who lured Bradley, Wiggins and Caughey to their deaths.

Bradley was murdered on or about March 28, 2004. Witnesses from the Golden Gate homeless camp where she lived said McWatters promised her a shower and that they watched the two walk away together toward a Port Salerno home owned by Jessica Aleman, McWatters' sister. Bradley's strangled body was found March 31 in a canal about 100 feet from the house.

Wiggins and Caughey were murdered within hours of each other on May 31. Witnesses at a house party McWatters and Wiggins attended said they last saw the two together.

Later in the evening, McWatters returned to the house without Wiggins, sweating, "hyped up," and requesting cocaine, according to a witness deposition.

Although Wiggins was murdered second, her body was the last to be discovered. It was found on June 7. A Martin County Sheriff's Office detective searching for clues to the Caughey murder came across her body in a wooded area near a retention pond about three miles from where Bradley's body was found.

Caughey was last seen alive walking down Lincoln Street in Port Salerno with McWatters trailing behind on a bicycle, calling her name. A witness said he had dropped her off behind a Lil' Saints convenience store after they unsuccessfully tried to buy crack cocaine. On June 3, a family found her body in the woods across the pond from the Wiggins crime scene.

All three women were found unclothed from the waist down with their shirts jammed up into their armpit area, bras pushed over their breasts. The disarray of the victims' clothes and the fact that they were strangled led a forensic pathologist to conclude they were sexually assaulted and then murdered.

Before he confessed, detectives tried to connect McWatters to the crimes through a foot-deep hole next to Caughey's body. Because of the position of her body, detectives believed the killer had murdered her, picked her up, tripped in the hole and then dropped her. Leaving the body as it fell, the murderer then used tree branches to cover it up.

During the June 23 confession, McWatters relayed varying stories about how he fractured his ankle around the time of the murders.

He first told detectives he injured his leg in an all-terrain vehicle accident, but when asked for the names of the people he was with, McWatters recanted and said a car had run over his foot during a drug deal.

"... If you told us the truth about smoking rock, why would you lie to us about how your leg got broken?" Detective Brian Bergen asked in a recorded conversation with McWatters.

"I don't know," McWatters said. "'Cause (expletive), story kinda got confused in my head. 'Cause trying to make up a story to tell everybody else and then (expletive) tellin' you," McWatters said. "In between the two stories and (expletive), like I told ya man, I'm confused."

McWatters eventually admitted to killing the three women in the recordings. He said he was in the process of having sex with each of them when he "lost it."

Because of the bodies' extensive state of decomposition, no concrete forensic evidence was collected from any of the crime scenes. Wiggins' mother whimpered softly when Bakkedahl projected pictures of her body on a screen during his closing arguments Wednesday.

The jury will next hear attorney arguments in the penalty phase of the trial and then recommend a sentence. Martin County Circuit Judge Larry Schack must ultimately decide whether McWatters will receive the death penalty.

The defense plans to have Aleman, Dr. Michael C. Riordan and a former teacher of McWatters' testify on his behalf during the penalty phase, defense attorney Bob Udell said today.

The defense also will play audio from a recorded jailhouse telephone conversation between McWatters and his mother, Jacqueline Wayman.


McWatters erupts, denies killing in rage over prostitution

September 30, 2006

STUART The suggestion that he raped and strangled three women because he was angry at his ex-girlfriend and mother for prostituting themselves brought derisive laughter and a curse from Eugene McWatters during closing arguments in his triple-murder trial Wednesday.

"That's bull(expletive)!" McWatters blurted from the defense table where he has sat during his three-week trial in Martin Circuit Court.

The outburst came after prosecutor Tom Bakkedahl quoted from a statement McWatters gave to detectives in which he said he didn't believe in paying for sex and that he had been hurt badly by women who sold themselves for drugs or money.

"It's disgusting that they could do that to themselves," he said in a June 2004 statement after his arrest on an unrelated sexual battery charge that was later dropped.

Jurors began deliberations Wednesday and will resume this morning in the case in which McWatters, 28, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of sexual battery in the deaths of three women in Golden Gate and Port Salerno.

Carrie Caughey, 18, Christal Wiggins, 29, and Jackie Bradley, 43, were killed in 2004.

If McWatters is convicted of any of the murder charges, a second phase of the trial will determine if the 12-member jury recommends life or death.

Bakkedahl, who has a reputation for compelling closing arguments, told jurors they can find first-degree murder in two ways.

If they find the women were raped, it is considered first-degree felony murder. If the killings were planned, even for the briefest of periods, they would qualify as first-degree premeditated murder.

"The cause of death proves premeditation," Bakkedahl said, noting testimony from experts that it takes at least four minutes to kill a person with strangulation, and that's if they don't struggle.

To illustrate his point, he stood in front of the defense table, extended his hands as if choking an invisible throat and held the position for a minute he timed by the courtroom clock.

"One minute," he said after 60 seconds of intense silence in the crowded courtroom. "One minute. You want me to stand there for three more minutes? Is that premeditation?"

As to the sexual battery charge, defense attorney Rusty Akins argued there was no evidence of force and it was possible the women, two of whom were known to trade sex for drugs or money, had consensual sex and were killed later.

But Bakkedahl pointed to McWatters' statement that he was having face-to-face sex with the women when they died and argued if there was consent, it disappeared when he put his hands around their throats.

Akins argued McWatters gave a false confession based on information he gleaned from his many contacts with detectives and witnesses over the two-month investigation of what became known as the Salerno Strangler case.

And he questioned the reliability of the memories of the prosecution witnesses, many of whom admitted they were drinking or using drugs during the times they said they saw McWatters with the victims.

"These witnesses didn't come in and tell you they were baking cookies," Akins said.

Less than three hours into deliberations, the jury asked to listen to the confession statement with the aid of prepared transcripts that were used in the trial to help decipher the poor audio quality, but the law doesn't allow use of transcripts during deliberations.

Instead, court officials will try to find a better sound system for jurors to use in replaying the recordings.

The jury foreman also disclosed that the panel had begun filling out the verdict form, although it had not reached a verdict. The form was ordered sealed until deliberations resume this morning.

Akins said he had never heard of a jury filling in a verdict piecemeal in more than 20 years of practicing law.

Part of the final argument from the defense came from co-counsel Bob Udell, who repeated his suggestion from the start of the trial that McWatters may have confessed because he wanted to seem important, to be a somebody.

Bakkedahl turned the comment around to end his argument.

"He just wanted to be somebody. He's somebody now," Bakkedahl said. "He's a murderer, and he's a rapist."


Attorneys offer conflicting views in 'Salerno Strangler' case

September 19, 2006

STUART To prosecutors, he was a calculating murderer, a hyped-up drug addict, a cunning predator of wayward women.

To the defense, he was an abandoned child, a high school drop-out, an informer with aspirations of helping to catch a serial killer and ended up getting wrongly arrested for the crimes himself.

Those were the contrasting images painted Monday morning during opening statements in the trial of alleged "Salerno Strangler" Eugene Wayman McWatters Jr., accused of killing three women in the summer of 2004.

Until a bomb threat put a halt to court proceedings, the triple murder trial was off to a steady clip after a week of jury selection.

By 10 a.m., when the threat was announced, the prosecution and defense had addressed the jury and the defense was about to cross- examine the prosecution's first witness, Thomas Field, a friend of one of victim Jacqueline Clark Bradley who told jurors Bradley was with McWatters the last time he saw her alive.

In her statements to the jury, prosecutor Erin Kirkwood described McWatters as a social deviant who knew how to dispose of DNA from watching the CourtTV program "Forensic Files," and who destroyed physical evidence at each of the three crime scenes.

"We're not going to have a CSI moment in this trial," she said, referring to the popular crime investigation TV show.

Any DNA on Bradley's body was lost when it was submerged in a Port Salerno drainage canal in March 2004, and the bodies of both Carrie Ann Caughey and Christal Dawn Wiggins were highly decomposed when they were found near a Port Salerno lake on June 3 and June 7, 2004.

He lured each woman with a promise, Kirkwood said: crack cocaine for Caughey and Wiggins; a shower for the homeless Bradley. Instead of keeping his end of the bargain, Kirkwood said, McWatters, now 28, raped and strangled the three women, pushed their bras above their breasts and attempted to hide the bodies.

Yet the crux of the prosecution's evidence and its potential downfall, defense attorney Bob Udell told the jurors, is McWatters' confession.

After he was arrested on an unrelated sexual battery charge on June 23, 2004, McWatters, now 28, told detectives he had sex with each of the three murder victims, "lost it" and was responsible for their deaths.

But Udell said his client admitted to the crimes only after detectives placed McWatters in an evidence room jam-packed with "Salerno Strangler" evidence. That gave McWatters under the influence of marijuana and alcohol an opportunity to learn things only the killer would otherwise know, Udell said.

Kirkwood acknowledged detectives deliberately placed McWatters in the room, but said it was to force him to "stew" about the crimes and their victims. Confronting his actions, she said, induced McWatters to confess out of guilt.

Udell, who wondered aloud why none of detectives' many conversations with McWatters were recorded until after he actually confessed, said his client was eager to speak about the crimes because, after a lifetime marred by violence, drug use and run-ins with the law, he wanted to be helpful.

"Eugene was one of those people who wanted to be somebody because he was told he was worthless," Udell said.


Prosecutors Say Accused Serial Killer Confessed To Deaths

July 14, 2004

Prosecutors said Wednesday that a man accused of strangling three women has confessed to their killings.

Authorities released surveillance video Tuesday of Eugene McWatters, who is suspected in the serial killer deaths of three Port Salerno women.

The video shows McWatters in handcuffs and in the custody of Martin County sheriff's deputies hours before he was questioned and arrested in the three women's deaths.

McWatters is accused of strangling the three women between March and June.

"Obviously, he admits he was the last one with each of the victims, and that he was having sex with them when something happened," said Assistant State Attorney Nita Denton. "He doesn't tell us what that something is, but then he admits they're dead."



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