Correction: The defendant’s first name was misspelled. It has been corrected.

By Ned Newton 

A Rockbridge County Circuit judge ruled Wednesday that sheriff’s deputies did not violate the Miranda rights of a 35-year-old Natural Bridge man who is charged with killing his girlfriend in December 2021. 

Judge Christopher Russell said Jonathan Watkins “responded to police questioning knowingly and intelligently, implying a waiver of his Miranda rights” that protect against self-incrimination, when he talked to sheriff’s deputies during 9½ hours after police arrived at the scene of the shooting at a trailer in Natural Bridge. 

Defense attorney Samuel Thomas, who represents Watkins, had asked Russell to suppress Watkins’s statements about a disagreement with his girlfriend that started the night before the shooting and continued up until her death. 

But Jared Moon, the commonwealth’s attorney, argued that the deputies didn’t do anything wrong and all their conversations with Watkins were voluntary. 

Watkins faces charges of second-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, use of a firearm in a felony, and discharging a firearm in an occupied building. A trial has been scheduled for July 18. 

During the more than six-hour suppression hearing, sheriff’s deputies and investigators testified about their interactions with Watkins throughout the day Dec. 10, 2021.  

At issue were three timeframes of their interactions: 

  • The hour or so that Watkins spent at the scene of the shooting, 
  • About 40 minutes he spent at the sheriff’s office before he received the Miranda warning, 
  • The subsequent seven hours that officers spent in questioning Watkins.

After Dudley was shot, Watkins told police that she was still breathing, and he left the trailer to get help, according to testimony at the hearing.

Deputy Daniel Trout testified that Watkins told him that he drove to his mother’s house 15 minutes away. Trout said the mother then called 911 while she and her son headed back to the trailer. 

Trout was wearing a recording device on his uniform and captured Watkins say, “She went to grab the gun, and it went off when I went to take it away.” 

Trout’s audio recording was played during the hearing. At some point, police could be heard offering Watkins the chance to sit in the back of a police car because he was wearing a sleeveless shirt on a cold, winter day. He got into the car.  

Thomas argued that Watkins assumed he’d been taken into police custody at that moment because he could not get out of the car or roll down the window. The doors in the back seat of a police car typically don’t have handles on the inside. 

A suppression hearing was held on Wednesday at the Rockbridge County Courthouse for a murder trial scheduled for July 18. (Newton photo)

Russell rejected the defense attorney’s argument that Watkins was under arrest at that point. The judge said no formal arrest had occurred and that Watkins’s conversations with police were voluntary.  

According to testimony, the deputies drove Watkins to the sheriff’s office, a trip that took about 20 minutes. Watkins then spent about 40 minutes in the interrogation room before he was read his Miranda rights. 

Moon played a videotape of Watkins in the interrogation room. Watkins can be seen and heard as he cried and sobbed, with his head in his hands, for more than 30 minutes.  

Deputies sat in the room for several minutes, without saying anything to Watkins. Eventually, the deputies ask if it would better for Watkins to start explaining what happened the night before between him and Dudley. 

Watkins can be seen and heard on the video as he explained how he and Dudley argued the night before and the morning of the shooting. “I told her I was going to leave, and I didn’t want to argue no more,” Watkins said, describing what happened the night before. 

But he didn’t leave. He stayed the night, overslept the next morning, and had breakfast with Dudley before they started arguing again. 

Investigator Chris Young, one of the interrogators, testified that Watkins told him that Dudley thought he was cheating on her. Young testified that Watkins told him that Dudley got up in his face, pushed him, and held a knife on him. The investigator said Watkins told him that Dudley had threatened to cut herself.

Young said Watkins decided to leave the trailer and grabbed a 9-mm Luger pistol to take with him. Watkins told the investigator that Dudley took it, and then Watkins took it back, Young testified. 

In a police report, Young wrote that Watkins said, “she was pushing him when the gun fired, that her hand possibly struck the weapon when it fired.” 

Watkins can be seen on the video when investigators read the Miranda warning. But even the judge couldn’t make out whether Watkins had said, “yes, sir,” or “no, sir,” when asked if he understood.  

The defense attorney argued that Watkins said he did not understand his rights. But investigators who testified said they heard Watkins say that he did understand. 

Russell ultimately ruled that Watkins implied that he had waived his rights because he responded to all subsequent police questions and asked for clarification when didn’t understand.  

Within a few minutes of the Miranda warning, Watkins can be seen and heard saying, “Man, I’m not denying. I’ll tell you all anything.”

Exit mobile version