The crowded small courtroom in the basement of the Washington Parish Courthouse was full Wednesday morning as two families awaited the mandatory sentencing of Quentin Watson, found guilty last week of murdering Anita Smith and William Lewis on Feb. 6, 2008.
He received the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder, life in prison without the benefit of parole. Because he was convicted on two murders, he received two life sentences to run concurrently.
Before 22nd Judicial District Court Judge William Knight sentenced Watson, his defense counsel made a motion for a new trial based on the court’s actions of overriding objections during the trial that resulted in allowing evidence, such as the videotaped interview, into the proceedings. That videotape showed a confession that Watson later recanted.
Knight refused the motion for a new trial and said, “The court has stated its reasoning for allowance of the evidence presented. You are entitled to wait three days after the denial of the motion for a new trial.”
Instead, the defense waived that right and sentencing began.
Wendy Rawls, daughter of Anita Smith and cousin of William Lewis, took the stand to make a statement on behalf of the family. She read a letter from her sister Nikki Hughes, who was not present in court. The letter was addressed to their mother.
“It’s still like a nightmare to me…I’m still confused as to what Quentin was doing there that night…I love you and miss you so much, especially on my birthday,” the letter read.
Rawls added her own statement about her mother’s support for her children.
“I had a great relationship with my mom. She was always there for us. Nikki and I suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and have been in counseling. I still have nightmares — and unanswered questions,” she said.
“Maybe one day,” Rawls said to Watson, “you can find it in your heart to tell the truth about that night.”
Rawls left the witness stand in tears and returned to her seat by friends and family.
In pronouncing sentence, Knight said, “The court can lose touch with a case when that case goes so long…. One thing the family should get from the proceedings is closure. The tragedy is that for both families, there is no closure.”
“He (Watson) chose not to come forward after it happened,” continued Knight. “When confronted with the DNA evidence, he told not one, not two, but three versions of what happened that night. He is an intelligent man yet became a brick during this case. He continually answered ‘I don’t know’ on the IQ test — more lies. We know he murdered (Smith and Lewis), but Quentin did what is good for Quentin throughout this case.”
He said that when he sees “Florida Gator” he thinks of Jeff — the elusive Jeff who was the subject of one version of the night’s events.
It’s been five years since Smith and Lewis were murdered in a house only blocks away from where Knight grew up. He said the small town of Franklinton is still asking why, but the overriding mystery remains unsolved.
“Many times in a case I feel sorry when I have to give someone the mandatory sentence,” said Knight. “I don’t feel bad about this mandatory sentence. You will spend the rest of your life in Angola without benefit of probation or parole for the murders of Anita Smith and William Lewis and for theft, also, from both families because they have been denied closure.”